Governor endorses ‘equal rights’ for all

Mixed reaction to court ruling on same-sex marriage

Governor Martyn Roper has expressed support for a historic court ruling legalising same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands, saying it provides “equal rights for everyone”.

The governor released a brief statement Monday in the wake of Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s decision to amend the Marriage Law to allow same-sex couples equal access to marriage.

RELATED STORY—The issue explained: A closer look at the same-sex marriage ruling

Roper said in the statement, “I recognise there are strongly held and differing views across the islands on the legal ruling on same-sex marriage.

“Yet it is important that all our citizens can play an equal and active part in society free from discrimination as set out in our constitution.

“This judgment provides equal rights for everyone, a point which I and former Governors have previously emphasised.”

Roper also expressed support for the islands’ legal system and urged Cayman Islands residents to keep the debate amicable.

“At this time I believe it is important that all of us continue to show tolerance and respect to others, particularly when we hold different views. I also believe that our highly respected, and independent, judicial system in the Cayman Islands continues to underpin our success. It protects our prosperity, constitution, good governance and our security.”

Premier Alden McLaughlin has not commented on the decision. Attorney General Sam Bulgin, speaking outside of court on Friday, described it as “interesting” and said his team would take time to read and digest it before deciding on next steps.

The ruling, which directly changed the Marriage Law to make same-sex marriage legal, is effective immediately.

While opposition politicians were reluctant to discuss their feelings on the issue of same-sex marriage itself, several raised concerns about the concept of the chief justice changing legislation.

Chris Saunders, MLA for Bodden Town West, released a statement questioning the court’s decision, saying that the Constitution, approved by referendum in 2009, defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

He said it was for the public or the legislature to change that, not the courts.

Chief Justice Smellie’s decision was that the Constitution does not actually define marriage as between a man and a woman. It simply contains a clause protecting the rights of men and women to marry. He ruled that this did not exclude same-sex marriage and, in fact, government was in breach of different rights in the Constitution, including the right to a family life and the right to freedom from discrimination, by not allowing same-sex marriage.

The chief justice changed the Marriage Law, not the Constitution, to allow for same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, Saunders said he was concerned about the judiciary changing the law of the land.

“What we cannot have or allow in a democracy is legislation from the bench,” he said.

Newlands MLA Alva Suckoo made similar remarks, telling the Compass he was concerned about the chief justice changing the law.

He added that he did not personally support a change to the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

An online petition calling for the definition of marriage in the Cayman Islands to remain as between one man and one woman had gathered 3,690 signatures at press time Monday.

Asked for comment on the ruling, Bishop Nicholas Sykes, of St. Alban’s Church and a member of the executive committee of the Cayman Islands Ministers’ Association, endorsed an analysis being circulated by lawyer and former government drafter Bilika Simamba.

In his analysis, Simamba suggests that the chief justice was wrong to interpret the Constitution in the way that he did.

He claims that Section 14 of the Marriage Law does specifically define marriage as between a man and a woman and, because it deals with marriage, should usurp other elements of the Constitution that are more general, such as the right to a family life.

This was the argument government brought at trial, arguing that this section was a specialist provision and amounted to a ban on same-sex marriage.

The chief justice disagreed with this interpretation, agreeing with the couple’s lawyers’ claim that the law simply protected marriage for heterosexual couples and did not exclude other groups from being allowed access to marriage.

He said if the U.K. government had intended for this to be the case when it passed an Order in Council bringing Cayman’s Constitution into being, it could have included specific wording to that effect.

Bishop Sykes said the decision was “fatally flawed” on a number of counts and endorsed Simamba’s contention that the government should appeal.

Simamba wrote in his analysis, “I think that the LA should debate the matter in emergency session, now that it is no longer sub judice, and pass a resolution asserting its power to amend laws and declare that the Chief Justice has overstepped his bounds. In addition, they must appeal the decision.”

Leonardo Raznovich, a former law professor at the Truman Bodden Law School and part of the couple’s legal team, applauded the decision in a statement Friday and urged people to accept the court’s judgment.

He wrote, “To those that oppose this decision as a matter of principle rather than with hate, I say this: denying two people the ability to love one another, to commit to each other and to support each other throughout life, in good and in bad times, to have that love respected and protected by the country in which you were born and raised, is the cruellest of all evils.

“Look into your hearts and search your soul. Is this something that you wish to continue to endorse? Find the wisdom and courage to accept change, because today you have lost nothing, this decision will not force you to marry someone of the same-sex nor will force any church to celebrate a same-sex marriage. However, the Cayman Islands have instead become one of the most advanced nations in the Caribbean, something of which you should all be proud.”

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