The governor has called for everyone to show tolerance and respect amid an increasingly fractious debate over same-sex marriage rights in the Cayman Islands.
Governor Martyn Roper, speaking in a wide-ranging interview with the Cayman Compass, said there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate but urged those involved to treat each other with courtesy and respect.
He refuted suggestions that the UK was trying to push same-sex marriage on the Cayman Islands and said the mother country was happy to let the court process run its course.
“I don’t think that’s correct. Britain has stepped back on this issue,” he said.
“The UK has been clear that this is a devolved matter,” Roper said. “We want the local territories to handle it, but if there is discrimination, that needs to be addressed. That is something that I and previous governors have said.
“We are where we are because some in society feel their rights are not being protected in the same way as others.”
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled last month that the definition of marriage in Cayman’s Marriage Law as between a man and a woman was discriminatory and breaches numerous freedoms guaranteed by Cayman’s Bill of Rights. He amended the Marriage Law to allow for same-sex marriage.
The implementation of that decision has been delayed pending an appeal by the Cayman Islands government.
Government has argued that the chief justice overstepped his powers by amending the legislation directly and has insisted that the wording of the relevant section in the Constitution was intended to directly prevent same-sex marriage. It has not disputed the court’s finding that the absence of any framework for same-sex couples to legally register their relationships is discriminatory.
Roper said the UK had made it clear, in previous statements from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that it was not currently contemplating an order in council on the issue.
He said the Cayman Islands Constitution provided the proper framework for questions of discrimination to be addressed.
“The way the balance of responsibilities works is that if it is not addressed by the local parliament, then the court system addresses it,” he said. “That is where we are at the moment, but we now need to see where that gets to in terms of an appeal.”
He said the Bill of Rights, included in the Cayman Islands Constitution of 2009, was a major step forward because it provided protection of rights for individuals and minority groups.
“As previous governors have said, it is about recognising that where there is discrimination, we have to do something about that and, whatever happens in the appeal, there is still an issue of discrimination which will need tackling.”
Roper believes he has built a strong working relationship with the Cayman Islands government and hopes that can continue, despite tensions over issues like rights for same-sex couples and public beneficial ownership registries.
He said the visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, had shown Cayman at its best and emphasised the strong bonds between the two countries.
“Maybe there are some tensions in the relationship,” he said, “but it is visits like this that do underline why the bonds between the Cayman and the UK are actually very strong.”
He said he was delighted with how the whirlwind royal tour had gone and said Cayman had pulled off an event schedule that would have challenged many larger countries.
“We had 14 different events, we had three islands visited, and six aircraft movements – all in 28 hours,” he said. “We packed an awful lot in. It was a very well-designed programme to enable as many people as possible to meet them directly and see if they could catch a glimpse of them.
“They were impressed with the warmth and the affection and outpouring of support everywhere they went.
“We were able to involve quite a lot of schoolchildren, which was fantastic because those are the sort of memories you cherish for a long time.”
He said the royal couple had been guests at Government House for the night and, despite their intense schedule, had managed to get in the water off Governors Beach for a swim.
Roper said the visit, which culminated in a reception for 1,500 people at Pedro St. James on March 28, had been made possible by the joint efforts of his staff and the premier’s office among others.
He said it was an occasion that brought the island together and one he hopes can be repeated.
“I certainly think we must continue to build the links between the royal family and Cayman,” he said, “so I hope we can have future royal visits.
“A lot of people have said it would be wonderful to have Prince Harry and William here, so let’s work towards that. Obviously they are in great demand. Everyone across the world would like to have them visit.”
Strategic Policy Statement
Echoing Premier Alden McLaughlin’s sentiment that the Cayman Islands are “British and proud”, Roper said there was a palpable affection for the royal family across the territory.
He added that, despite occasional differences of opinion, “there is far more that unites us than divides us”.
Roper said the premier’s Strategic Policy Statement on Friday had emphasised the breadth and range of areas that government was working to improve the islands.
“Yes, there are challenges,” he said. “Yes, there are difficulties, but when you step back a bit and consider just how much is going on here, the picture is positive. The economic fundamentals are incredibly positive at the moment.
“As governor, I am incredibly impressed by the finances of the Cayman Islands.
“I think government deserves a lot of credit for some significant achievements in recent years and, clearly, there is a lot more still planned. I want to be supportive and help this government deliver even more in the next two years.”