A civil partnerships bill, intended to provide a legal framework for same-sex couples in the Cayman Islands, has been introduced for debate by the Legislative Assembly.
The bill is not scheduled for debate in the upcoming session, scheduled to begin Monday, however. A 30-day public consultation period will be provided before legislatures vote on the matter.
If passed, the Domestic Partnership Bill, 2020 would make the Cayman Islands the only British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean to recognise some form of same-sex unions. While Bermuda’s courts approved same-sex marriage in 2017, that ruling continues to face legal challenges which are expected to be heard by the UK Privy Council.
The introduction of legislation in Cayman comes more than seven months after the Court of Appeal ruled that an expeditious solution must be provided to address same-sex partnerships in Cayman.
“Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush are entitled, expeditiously, to legal protection in the Cayman Islands, which is functionally equivalent to marriage,” the November judgment read.
It continued, “It would be wholly unacceptable for this declaration to be ignored. Whether or not there is an appeal to the Privy Council in respect of same-sex marriage, there can be no justification for further delay or prevarication.”
Day and Bodden Bush began their constitutional challenge for marriage equality after several failed attempts to petition the government on the matter, explained Day in an interview with the Cayman Compass.
The day before the Domestic Partnership Bill announcement, Day said marriage equality would provide legal protections that her family currently lacks.
“It would mean that we’re no longer treated as second-class citizens in my country. It would mean that we’re not treated as outcasts by the government, because that’s essentially the way they treat the LGBT community,” Day said.
“It would also mean just simple things that people take for granted. If something happens to me, if I have any health issues, then Vickie would be the person who would be able to make decisions with regards to my health. She would automatically be entitled to my estate.”
Despite protests and vocal opposition by Cayman’s religious community, Day said the couple has experienced an outpouring of support from Caymanians during the years-long legal battle.
“I don’t think that our case has anything to do with religion. It has everything to do with human rights and equality,” she said.
“We’ve had an incredible amount of community support, particularly since we started down this journey publicly. We’ve had a lot of financial support and other support from the Caymanian community. I think that it’s a myth that a majority of Caymanians don’t support equality.”
The bill states that marriage officers “cannot be compelled to permit the use of any place of worship under the control of the marriage officer for the formalisation of a domestic partnership”.
A press release from government and Premier Alden McLaughlin issued Friday said that November’s Court of Appeal ruling made “a very unequivocal and strongly worded declaration” that Day and Bodden Bush were entitled to protection under the law.
“The court observed, among other things, that it was apparent for several years that there is an obligation to provide such a framework and that the failure to do so was ‘woeful’. The court observed that this failure of the Legislative Assembly is a continuing violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” the release said.
“Further, the Court made the point that the Executive and the Legislature are expected to obey the law and to respect decisions of the Court. It went on to state that it would be wholly unacceptable for this declaration by the court to be ignored whether or not there is an appeal to the Privy Council.
“Accordingly, in keeping with the declaration of the Court of Appeal, the Government has agreed to have the Domestic Partnership Bill, 2020 considered by Legislative Assembly following a 30-day public consultation period.”
Governor Martyn Roper also issued a statement in response to the publishing of the Domestic Partnership Bill, saying it was a “welcome step on the path to ensuring that the rights of everyone in the territory are upheld and that Cayman law is compliant with the recent ruling of the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal”.
He added, “Our constitution recognises our Christian values, the importance of the rule of law and our respect for human dignity, equality and freedom. These values apply to us all and I hope that we all continue to show a spirit of tolerance and compassion to all members of our society.
“In the Covid crisis, we have learnt more about what really matters. The wonderful value of human interactions that we lost during the lockdown. At a time when the Black Lives Matters campaign is rightly forcing all of us to look carefully at our own behaviours, I urge everyone to treat each other with renewed courtesy, dignity and respect at all times.”
Members of the Legislative Assembly have been vocal in their opposition to providing same-sex marriage. In April 2019, following the Grand Court ruling that favoured Day and Bodden Bush’s case, legislators unanimously backed a private members’ motion to oppose the chief justice’s ruling in support of same-sex marriage.
Lawyer Leonardo Raznovich, who faced his own struggle to have his marriage recognised by immigration officials in 2016, called the same-sex partnership legislation long overdue.
He said he would reserve his judgment for later as to whether the bill provided a functional equivalent to marriage for same-sex couples.
“I welcome this step and acknowledge it has taken an enormous amount of hard work, bravery and sacrifice by many people, including organisations such as Colour Cayman, to reach this point,” Raznovich wrote the Cayman Compass.
“Many Caymanians, in particular, have suffered for many years (and will continue to suffer) until they are afforded dignity, equality and respect by their follow citizens and, importantly, under the eyes of the law.
“It is, in my submission, appalling that the Court of Appeal failed Chantelle and Vicki (and all other minorities) by failing in their duty to provide an effective remedy where multiple and serious breaches of the Constitution were found to exist.”