“This process of modification in no way threatens the institution of marriage. Rather … in fact, the institution is strengthened.
“And it is to be hoped, perhaps even more fervently, that our constitutional democracy will itself have been strengthened by the affirmation of the state’s obligation to respect the fundamental rights and, in so doing, to preserve that crucial balance between the different aspirations and ideals which might otherwise be at tension in society.”
– Chief Justice Anthony Smellie
It would be a mistake to think Friday’s landmark decision legalising same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands will immediately settle this divisive societal issue. But it does represent the beginning of a shift towards greater tolerance.
As Chief Justice Anthony Smellie determined, there is no legal justification for the Legislative Assembly’s ‘ongoing refusal’ to provide a framework for same-sex couples to access the rights and assume the responsibilities conferred by legal marriage. His ruling was not a statement of religious preference or personal opinion: It was a reaffirmation of a bedrock principle of any democratic society – that every person must be afforded equal protection under the law.
Speaking Friday, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said government will “have to take some time to consider it and think about how to move forward”. Premier Alden McLaughlin and other political leaders have yet to issue public statements. It is possible that government will appeal.
In the interim, it is important to remember what, exactly, is at stake here: not religious matrimony, but rather legal marriage – the rights, protections and responsibilities afforded to married couples by the government, including inheritance, pensions, residency and next-of-kin visiting rights. The Grand Court’s decision that Section 2 of the Marriage Law be changed to define marriage as “the union between two people as one another’s spouses” will not – nor should it necessarily – affect religious teachings or personal beliefs.
In Cayman, as in any society that recognises the institution, legal marriage is a binding contract between two adults. Even in our Christian nation, this contract is independent of any church. If the ruling stands, couples still will be welcome to marry inside any house of worship that agrees to bless their union, or to forego religious ceremony. Churches and clergy will be free to follow their own theological principles when deciding which marriages to perform.
At a time when Cayman was increasingly finding itself outside of a growing global consensus, last week’s ruling was corrective action allowing Cayman to join other modern societies.
Some will try to say the court’s decision is not progress, but imposition of a worldly, ‘extra-Caymanian’ influence. They are wrong. Petitioner Chantelle Day is Caymanian; her partner Vickie Bodden Bush has deep Cayman family ties. With them in the courtroom Friday were dozens of Caymanian allies. Untold others were watching, and cheering the women on, from outside the courtroom and around the world.
We all suffer when we allow our government to deny the civil rights of a few. This ruling, no matter the future challenges it may face, ushers us into a new era of strength based on the unifying principles of inclusivity and equality.