Chantelle Day: ‘It’s a myth most Caymanians don’t support equality’

Caymanian lawyer Chantelle Day has been fighting in the courts for more than two years to have her marriage to wife Vickie Bodden Bush, a nurse from the UK with Caymanian ties, recognised by the Cayman Islands government.

The years-long legal battle has kept her family in the public eye and living in a state of limbo. With no recognition of their partnership in Cayman, the women also lack the ability to claim their adopted daughter as their own, to open joint bank accounts, or to respond to medical crises as a family.

During their Grand Court and Court of Appeal cases, the couple largely refrained from making public comments. With the women’s case now awaiting scheduling with the UK Privy Council, Day spoke to the Cayman Compass about the case, growing up in Cayman, and raising a family here.

She spoke to the Compass the day before government released a copy of the Domestic Partnership Bill, 2020, expected for debate in the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly.

Chantelle Day, left, and Vickie Bodden Bush – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

Cayman Compass: Can you step back on the marriage case and explain how your journey with all of this started?

Chantelle Day: It’s been such a long time now. It’s been a long road, but stepping all the way back, I think it was in 2017.

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Vickie and I had moved abroad in 2014 because we were having issues and got fed up of the hostile environment here towards same-sex couples. So, we just needed a break from it.

We moved to Dublin, and then we moved to London. We were having a good time abroad, but ultimately, I wanted to return home when we adopted our daughter. I wanted to raise her around the rest of our family. I wanted her to have a similar upbringing to the one I had, and I thought that Cayman was at that stage where people, for the most part, were very accepting.

We always had a warm reception from our friends and colleagues, but it was just whether we thought we could get the legal protections that we deserved under the law. There obviously had been some traction with the fact that expatriates and work permit holders had gained some rights through the Raznovich case, which went through the immigration tribunal.

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That opened the door. If foreigners living in Cayman can have some recognition, even if it wasn’t full recognition, but some limited recognition of their rights as same-sex, married couples, then surely the same should be extended to Caymanians.

The government really can’t stand by a position of not extending those rights if it’s granted one section of the community, but not to the other. So, we thought, you know, now’s a good time to open that door and engage in a friendly dialogue.

Compass: How did the legal proceedings begin?

Day: We wrote a letter to the premier, the attorney general, the governor and we basically set out what the position was, the rights we’re entitled to under the European Convention of Human Rights and the various European cases, and what Cayman’s minimum legal obligation was, which was to bring in a legal framework that provided for an equivalent bundle of rights. …

We got no response to that. I think we’d given them ample opportunity, at least three times in writing, because then came our letter before action, which again, we received no response to. So, we had no choice at that stage but to enter the remit of the court and seek justice there.

I think it’s been a bag of mixed results, but ultimately, it’s all been steps in the right direction and we’re still in that sphere now. So, on to Privy Council.

Compass: You grew up in Cayman. Did Vickie also grow up here?

Day: No, she didn’t grow up here, but she has family who lives here. She lived here prior to our relationship and then she went again while we were in a relationship. She’s very familiar with Caymanian culture and the island. She has many friends and family here.

Compass: Earlier you mentioned that you and Vickie decided to live abroad for a time due to the hostility here. What kind of hostility did you encounter? What made it difficult to stay here at that time?

Day: There were obviously a variety of reasons but ultimately, [it was] because we weren’t in a position where we could have a legally recognised relationship. We didn’t have the protections that come with that relationship with regards to seeking jobs and a variety of other points, even just getting Vickie covered under my health insurance, holding joint bank accounts, et cetera. So, it was just easier for us to move away so that we could enjoy those rights and freedoms.

We were able to open joint bank accounts in Europe and in the UK. And we were able to adopt together as a couple who’d been in a long-lasting relationship without being married or in a civil partnership in the UK.

We wouldn’t have been able to do those things here.

Compass: How would it impact your life if your partnership were legally recognised here?  

Day: 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. They’d like to think that we don’t exist and that we should leave.

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 without us having to put layers and layers of legal documentation in place.

The key thing that I don’t think a lot of people understand is that she has no rights to be here in Cayman. She’s a visitor. For my daughter, who was adopted, we have a UK court adoption and then a UK adoption certificate. It’s not being recognised here in Cayman. I have no legal nexus as the mother of my own child here. She has no rights to become Caymanian.

And the only reason for that is because she has two mothers on her adoption certificate, which is discriminatory.

… A lot of people say, just live together, you don’t have to get married, live your lives without bothering us with this legal nonsense, that that sort of mentality. But people don’t think about the practical point.

Why would anyone put themselves through this? I don’t really see this as any different from back in the US decades ago when interracial marriages were not permitted. It’s the same thing. It’s just history repeating itself in another format here.

The Cayman Islands purports to be this top financial centre and purports to be a forward-thinking jurisdiction. Yet they’ve dragged us as a family through the court system for years now with very little respect for us throughout the process. …

What do you do as a Caymanian if you have an entitlement to a legal right under the Constitution or under the laws but the government refuses to legislate for it? Who holds the government accountable when they won’t act? Because that’s exactly the position we’ve been in.

Compass: How did it feel for you and Vickie to witness the protests that happened here against same-sex marriage and to see that government ministers were there in attendance, supporting that dialogue?

Day: I’ve always believed that people have the right to express their views. Freedom of expression is a principle I believe in, and it works both ways. You can’t expect to be able to state your view and not be willing to listen to the other.

Also, I don’t think that our case has anything to do with religion. It has everything to do with human rights and equality. People are entitled to their religious views and that’s between them and their God. They’re also entitled to civil liberties. I’m entitled to civil liberties as a Caymanian to marry and to have a child and to have a loving relationship legally recognised, the same way it’s recognised for heterosexual couples in this community. And that’s what this case is about.

We haven’t actually been that put out by any of the protests. I think at one point there was a sign that suggested that the LGBT-plus community should die. I thought things like that breach the boundaries of successful protest, peaceful protest, versus what borderlines onto hate speech. But that’s not my battle. I think I have enough on my plate.

But it’s definitely eye-opening and sometimes it raises questions, amongst my friends, my peer group, my colleagues, other likeminded individuals who just wonder, why would we want to raise our children in a community that can come across as so hateful? [That is] operating from a place of fear, hate and segregation rather than a place of acceptance and love, which are the principles of religion that I was brought up with?

We try not to make this about religion. We think it’s a completely different point all together. It’s a legal argument.

We are entitled to the rights under the law, and it’s just a matter of how we get there.

Compass: What was is like growing up in Cayman and accepting your identity?

Day: It was difficult. I think a lot of Caymanians have gone through the same experience here, where they don’t feel accepted by their family, extended family, peer group, et cetera. Personally, I took a little bit longer and waited until I left and went abroad to university to get comfortable with myself or to share that with my family when I came back. I was very lucky in that I have parents who were extremely supportive and accepting from the very get-go. …

For those who haven’t been supportive, they were never a part of my journey to begin with. So, it’s not really affected me that much.

Compass: Do you think the community here would accept a same-sex marriage mandate?

Day: One point I probably should have emphasised earlier was, 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. I think that there’s a loud minority. I think it will be welcomed.

Compass: What message would you send young people growing up here who might be grappling with their own identity?

Day: I think that young people now have a whole other bag of considerations. They have social media pressure. They have a whole other sphere that didn’t exist when I was growing up, which probably makes it harder in some regards, but it also probably allows them more of an outlet.

I say, be comfortable with who you are and if you’re struggling, then we have charities on island that can help. There’s Colours Cayman, who’ve been doing a fantastic job for years now, and there’s the more recent Gay Straight Alliance, who’ve also been doing a really good job. There are people who can help.

If anyone’s struggling, I encourage them to reach out to those outlets for help. Those organisations will be able to point them in the right direction and give them the support they need.

Compass: What is the status of your case? You’re anticipating it to move forward in the in the Privy Council?

Yeah. Since we’d heard nothing from the government with regards to the [Court of Appeal] declaration, we had no choice but to file for Privy Council appeal before our deadline to appeal had expired. We’re at the stage where all of the documentation for the appeal has been filed with Privy Council, and we’re just waiting to confirm a date for some time next year.

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