The UK government has rejected demands by the Foreign Affairs Committee that it should enforce the legalisation of same-sex marriages and abolish belongership, the equivalent of Caymanian status, in the overseas territories.
The committee issued a report in February demanding a reset of the relationship between the UK and its territories. This included the recommendation that the UK government should set a date by which it expects all overseas territories to have legalised same-sex marriage and, if necessary, legislate itself for the territories through an Order in Council, if such a date is not met.
The committee also put forward that belongership and equivalent concepts should be phased out to enable British citizens in the territories to vote or hold elected office.
In an official response to the House of Commons report, the UK government said it was committed to equal rights, including LGBT rights. However, the justice mechanisms and processes in the territories “should be allowed the space to address these matters”.
Cayman’s Court of Appeal granted a stay of a Grand Court judgment that allows gay and lesbian couples to obtain a marriage licence.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled in March that preventing same-sex couples from accessing marriage, and the rights associated with it, was a clear violation of freedoms guaranteed by the Cayman Islands Constitution, including the right to a private and family life.
The chief justice used his powers under the Constitution to rewrite the Marriage Law. He ordered that the clause in the law, specifying that marriage is reserved for heterosexual couples, should define marriage as “the union between two people as one another’s spouses”. The appeal will be heard in August.
The UK government said it was working to encourage the territories that have not put in place arrangements to recognise and protect same-sex relationships. “LGBT rights and broader human rights obligations are consistently raised with the leaders of Overseas Territories – both bilaterally and at the Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Councils. This is also a matter that is raised by Governors’ Offices. We have no plans to introduce an Order-in-Council on this issue.”
The government also refused demands to issue a timetable for a consultation process and deadline to phase out discriminatory elements of Cayman status or belongership.
It stated that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office regularly impresses on the overseas territories governments how important it is to allow people, who have made their permanent home in the territories, the ability to vote and fully engage in the community.
But the government also recognised the desire of the territories “to maintain their cohesion” and a corresponding “need for a reasonable qualifying process”. “We understand the OTs’ concerns, sensitivities and historical background on this issue.”
Just like marriage laws, immigration decisions were primarily a devolved matter for overseas territory governments, the government response noted.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who had criticised the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report when it was published in February as a “shameless and shameful attempt to reproduce neo-colonialism”, welcomed the official UK government response to the recommendations.
He said the UK government had given “a clear-headed restatement” of the fundamental principle of self-government that underpins the relationship between Cayman and the UK.
“I am very pleased that the UK has clearly listened to the representations that I and other OT leaders have made,” he said.
“In the 21st century, there can be no justification for people 5,000 miles away, most of whom have never even visited these Islands, thinking they know better than we do how we should run our own affairs.”
The premier noted as “positive” that the UK government had resisted attempts to accelerate the timetable to make the owners of Cayman-registered entities public in a centralised register. Cayman’s government maintains a beneficial ownership register, but it is rejecting the notion that the information should be publicly available as long as this is not a global standard.
Under the UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, the UK government will issue an Order in Council by the end of December 2020, with the territories expected to have fully functioning, publicly accessible registers no later than the end of 2023.
Premier McLaughlin said the UK response underlined the commitment to developing a positive and constructive relationship with the territories.
“That commitment has been seen too in the recent talks over the potential Constitutional changes that we would like to put in place in order to clarify our relationship,” he said.
“Those negotiations are nearing a conclusion and I hope to be able to report back to the House and to the country shortly on what has been agreed.”