Speaker McKeeva Bush led calls for Human Rights Commission chair James Austin-Smith to be fired for speaking out against the government’s decision to appeal an historic ruling legalising same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands.
Bush set his sights on lawyer Austin-Smith as the assumed author of a statement from the Human Rights Commission on Thursday which described the government’s decision to appeal as “ill-considered” and suggested the case against same-sex marriage was “weak to the point of being inarguable”.
Mr. Bush said the strongly worded statement, which also questioned the expenditure of public funds on the case, was an insult to the Assembly and a “flagrant and wanton abuse of office” from Austin-Smith.
He demanded a written apology from the commission chair and urged the governor to intervene by summarily dismissing Austin-Smith and censuring him for the statement.
He went on to describe Austin-Smith as an atheist who should therefore not be chair of the Human Rights Commission.
“He has declared his stand against God, he has declared his stand against the church, against our laws, and now his disgust against members here,” Mr. Bush said.
“From my standpoint, a declared atheist should never be a chair of such an important body,” he added, suggesting the role should instead go to a young lawyer or church minister.
Bush suggested the Human Rights Commission statement, which endorsed and welcomed Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s April 5 ruling, had risked prejudicing the outcome of the appeal.
“It is my opinion that the statement intended to influence against the government’s appeal. The chair of the Human Rights Commission is in contempt of the law and he ought to render an unconditional apology to this assembly,” Bush said.
“Would to God though, that the governor would immediately remove him. It is one of the greatest conflicts in him being there. There are many young lawyers, capable ministers. Consider some of these people.”
Bush read out some of the functions of the Human Rights Constitution defined in the Cayman Islands Constitution, including its remit to promote the understanding of human rights in the Cayman Islands, and said he could not see how the commission’s statement fell within that brief.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the commission expressed disappointment at the government’s announcement that it would appeal the court’s decision. It said the appeal would waste valuable public funds in an effort to maintain proven discrimination against same sex couples.
The statement added, “Unjustified state-sponsored discrimination has no place in a modern democracy and it is unlawful under Cayman’s Constitution.”
On Thursday night, the Legislative Assembly unanimously approved a private members’ motion from East End MLA Arden McLean that expressed disappointment with the chief justice’s decision, backed the government’s appeal and asserted the competence of the local parliament as the only law-making body in the Cayman Islands.
McLean suggested Austin-Smith should be fired and deported. He claimed authorities in the Cayman Islands had deported people in the past for speaking out against the country.
“I don’t know why we are so weak now,” he said. “You know how many people were picked up in this country and deported at midnight and not returned since?
“That’s what we have got to do with people like James Austin-Smith and this guy ‘Rakovic’ or whatever his name is.”
McLean is understood to have been referring to Leonardo Raznovich, a former law professor at the Truman Bodden Law School who has been an advocate for marriage rights for same-sex couples in Cayman and assisted the legal team that brought the recent successful constitutional challenge.
On Friday, Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly used the morning prayer to speak out against cruise passengers with alternative lifestyles.
“I went there for myself. I walked the streets of George Town and witnessed what was almost like a Sodom and Gomorrah,” she said.
Savannah MLA Anthony Eden responded by asking Deputy Governor Franz Manderson to ensure the police looked into O’Connor-Connolly’s concerns.
He said, “In light of the disturbing knowledge shared by the minister of education, I am asking that it is ensured that public decency and decorum is maintained on our streets here in Cayman by the police.”