Governor Martyn Roper: Courts must decide gay marriage question

Governor Martyn Roper talks to journalists at his first press conference on Thursday. – Photo: James Whittaker

New Cayman Islands governor Martyn Roper said he is happy to wait for the territory’s Grand Court to make a ruling on same-sex marriage.

Mr. Roper, in his first press conference as governor, said his personal view was that “everybody should have the same rights.”

But with the Grand Court on the brink of adjudicating the issue, he said he would wait and see what the courts decide before considering any action.

Chantelle Day, a Caymanian lawyer, and her partner Vickie Bodden Bush, a nurse from the U.K., have filed for a judicial review of government’s decision to refuse their application to marry. That case is scheduled to be heard in February and the result could set a precedent that fundamentally changes the way Cayman’s marriage laws are interpreted.

It is open to the U.K. to mandate the legalization of same-sex marriage or civil partnerships through an Order in Council, as it did to decriminalize homosexuality in the territories in the 1990s. But Mr. Roper did not appear to be contemplating such drastic action at this point.

Mr. Roper said, “I do recognize this is a hugely sensitive area and an important principle of the overseas territories is that there is maximum self-government. That is what the U.K. wants for the territories.

“This case is before the court, so we do have to wait until we see how the court handles that before we move further forward.”

Asked why a couple should have to fight for equal rights, at their own expense, when the European Court of Human Rights, which has jurisdiction in the Cayman Islands through its relationship with the U.K., has already adjudicated the issue and ruled that civil partnerships is the minimum acceptable standard, he said the case was only months away and it made sense to wait and see the outcome.

“We have to wait for that case to conclude because that will make a determination about the law which could then require action depending on the outcome,” he said.

One area where the U.K. has indicated it will legislate for Cayman through an Order in Council is on public beneficial ownership registries.

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Law includes a clause that instructs the U.K. secretary of state to “prepare a draft Order in Council requiring the government of any British Overseas Territory that has not introduced a publicly accessible register of the beneficial ownership of companies within its jurisdiction to do so” no later than Dec. 31, 2020.

Despite this apparent deadline, Mr. Roper appeared to suggest there was room for negotiation on timing.

Speaking at the press conference at his new home at Government House, he said the U.K. wanted public beneficial ownership registries to be a global standard by the time they were introduced in Cayman.

“The U.K.’s position, to be clear, is it wants a global standard. In terms of looking at the timescale for when that happens, the U.K. feels it is very important that others, including Crown Dependencies, including other countries, move at the same speed.

“I think the U.K.’s role is to promote that and push that, so everybody can move together …. ”

He said the financial services industry was absolutely fundamental to Cayman’s economy and protecting the industry would be part of his remit, despite the perception that the U.K. has, at times, been a threat rather than a friend in this area. He said the issue would be discussed again at the Joint Ministerial Council meeting in London in December.

Mr. Roper also hopes to play an active role in ensuring the security of the Cayman Islands through the National Security Council.

He said the Cayman Islands was one of the safest countries in the region, but he plans to work with government to ensure that remains the case. He said work was already under way to bring an additional helicopter to the territory and the Governor’s Office was collaborating with government on other issues including border control and the new coastguard unit.

He said the security council, which had lapsed in recent years, would play an important role going forward.

“That is a really important body,” he said. “I know it reconstituted recently and I fully intend to continue with that, and I think it is important because it brings everybody together who has a contribution to make in that area. Collectively, we can handle situations better by having a body like that. I fully support the National Security Council and will want to see regular meetings.”

In his first few days in office, Mr. Roper has been meeting with key politicians on all sides of the house, police chiefs and other officials under his jurisdiction, including the auditor general.

He said he plans to listen to the Cayman Islands people and be open and accessible.

He is an avid Twitter user and has been posting regularly since his arrival.