The polarising topic of same-sex marriage took another turn on Friday when George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan questioned whether the option of cutting ties with the UK in the event that same-sex marriages are imposed on Cayman by way of an Order in Council from the British Parliament.
“Is it fair to say that if we as a country are not willing to accept, we as a people are not willing to accept, some sort of framework, the only way out is through independence? Is that a fair assessment?” said Bryan as he questioned Attorney General Samuel Bulgin during a Finance Committee meeting.
In response to Bryan’s questions, which produced “extreme options,” Bulgin said there could be a middle ground.
“I don’t know if I would want to elevate it to that level really,” said Bulgin. “I’m sure somewhere in between there is some sort of happy medium that could be struck. While this is not really in my grasp, independence is an extreme.”
On 19 Nov., the Court of Appeal handed down a ruling that set aside Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s landmark verdict of March of this year, which legalised same-sex marriages. The Court of Appeal then returned the matter of same-sex marriage to the Legislative Assembly, and ordered that the government “expeditiously” provide same-sex couple Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush with a legal equivalent to marriage.
“There are various options around, but the most common legislation is called the ‘Civil Partnerships Act,’” said Bulgin. “Essentially what it does is it allows for the relationship, if I may call it that, to be registered. So, it is registered and recognised and so the rights will flow therefrom.”
The Court of Appeal ruling means that same-sex couples will no longer be able to marry. As a consequence, same-sex couples will be unable to access benefits through their partners such as health insurance and pension; which heterosexual couples currently receive.
Although the Court of Appeal did not give an exact timeline for when the legal equivalent to marriage should be implemented, it did recommend that the UK government step in and act if Cayman lawmakers continued to allow Day’s and Bodden Bush’s rights to be breached.
Premier Alden McLaughlin welcomed the Court of Appeal’s decision, and said he was grateful for the “clarity” it brought to the subject. He has since committed to have related legislation brought before the Legislative Assembly during the first quarter of 2020.
During Friday’s session, the attorney general pointed out the UK has legislation that provides for civil partnerships, same-sex marriages and common law unions.
“If, for whatever reason, this honourable House does not create [a] framework to address the conclusions of the appeals court on the violation of Article 8 [Cayman’s Bill of Rights], what could we expect?” said Bryan. “Because I want the country to understand exactly what we are facing if we don’t address it as legislators.”
While the attorney general was not willing to speculate on a potential outcome, McLaughlin did not shy away from the topic.
“I think I can safely say this: If this Legislative Assembly does not put in place legal framework for civil unions; within I’d say the first quarter of next year, the United Kingdom government is going to probably, all indications are, reintroduce same-sex marriage,” said McLaughlin.
“There is no question in my mind. So we can decide quite frankly whether we want to shape what that legislation looks like, or leave it to the UK, and we’ll just have same-sex marriages on the same terms as conventional marriages.”
The premier said during his talks with the governor he made it clear that it simply is not possible to rapidly introduce legislation that will recognise same-sex unions or common law partnerships.
“I have said publicly, and I have said privately to the governor; we simply as a legislature don’t have the time and space to deal with it this year,” said McLaughlin. “I think they have accepted that, but I am certain that if we don’t act, they will.”
He made no comment on the topic of independence.
Attorneys for Day and Bodden Bush stated that the couple is still deciding whether or not to list the matter before the Privy Council, the UK’s highest court, to have a final decision on the matter.
When questioned by Opposition Leader Arden McLean on whether Cayman would be in a position to challenge any further appeals, Bulgin said his office would have to rely on directions from the government.
“We are creatures of instructions,” said Bulgin. “If it is that there is an appeal to the Privy Council, and we are instructed to resist that appeal, I can assure the honourable member that the Attorney General’s Chambers] is in a position to do so.”
Compass Media’s Michael Klein contributed to this report.