Legislators on Monday are set to debate the Domestic Partnership Bill, which seeks to provide a legal framework for same-sex couples to enter into a formal union.
The bill, which has been open for public comment and consultation for a 30-day period, also seeks to address the long-standing issue of common law relationships in the Cayman Islands.
It sets out the process for entering into domestic partnerships, its registration and creates offences for breaches under the law.
While it is unclear how lawmakers will vote in the debate, the Cayman Compass understands that both government and opposition MLAs will be allowed a conscience vote when the proposed bill is tabled for debate.
Legislators have been seeking feedback from constituents on the proposed legislation.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, public meetings have been largely limited, which, as Opposition Leader Arden McLean pointed out last month, will hamper efforts to elicit public comment.
However, MLAs have been using other means to secure direction from constituents.
On Saturday, George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan will be holding a secret ballot vote for his constituents at Constitution Hall (formally Town Hall).
Other MLAs, like Bodden Town West’s Chris Saunders and Newlands’ Alva Suckoo, have been using WhatsApp to solicit feedback.
The proposed law seeks to address the directions in the ruling handed down by the Court of Appeal in its decision in the Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush case. The women had challenged the constitutionality of the marriage law and sought the right to enter into a same-sex marriage.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled in their favour, changing the definition of marriage and removing the wording of as a union between a man and a woman.
Government appealed the ruling on the grounds that the court could not and should not legislate from the bench. The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the government.
However, it ruled that Day and Bodden Bush are entitled “expeditiously” to legal protection in the Cayman Islands, which is functionally equivalent to marriage.
The court said there is an obligation to provide such a framework and that the failure to do so was “woeful”. The court said, in its ruling, that the failure of the Legislative Assembly to provide the framework is a continuing violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This week, the Human Rights Commission, in a press statement, expressed hope that the bill would overcome “divisiveness and intolerance” to address a legislative inequality as it reminded residents “to treat everyone with courtesy, dignity and respect”.
Colours Cayman meets with government
Colours Cayman founder Billie Bryan and legal counsel Leonardo Raznovich met with members of government and the Governor’s Office on Thursday morning to discuss proposed amendments to the bill.
The LGBTQ-advocacy group described the meeting as “very productive” on social media, and indicated they were pleased that government had taken their legal concerns into account.
“While Colours Cayman acknowledges that this [bill] is a step in the right direction, the rule of law in the Cayman Islands will only be fully upheld when a bill is finally enacted into law that, at the very least, provides a legal framework that is ‘functionally equivalent to marriage’, as the Court of Appeal determined was required by the Constitution,” a press release from the organisation stated Thursday afternoon.
“Colours Cayman supports any genuine attempt by the Cayman Islands Government to comply with the Constitution and to uphold the rule of law in the Cayman Islands, which has been in breach for a number of years in respect of this matter.
“In the words of the Court of Appeal, there can be no excuse for further delay or prevarication and a legal framework must be provided irrespective of any appeal to the Privy Council.”
Based on consultation with Raznovich and external legal counsel Travers Smith, Colours identified concerns with legal aspects of the bill and formulated suggestions for amendments.
Those legal concerns were submitted by Colours to government last week and then discussed in Thursday’s meeting.
“After a productive meeting this week, we are pleased to report that our legal concerns have been taken into account,” Colours wrote.
“Of course, the government’s preferred option of domestic partnerships rather than marriage is disappointing to many, to say the least … Colours Cayman will continue to pursue the same rights with the same name. However, our organisation does believe in the rule of law and has respect for decisions of the Cayman Islands courts.”
Marriage registrar object to bill
Civil registrar of marriages Joy Basdeo and deputy registrar Brett Basdeo of Simply Weddings shared objections on Thursday regarding the “separate and distinct regime” created by the Domestic Partnerships Bill and encouraged the Legislative Assembly to vote against it.
A statement from Simply Weddings described the legal framework set out by the bill as “burdensome and undignified” for couples wishing to perform a domestic partnership ceremony in the Cayman Islands.
Given that a vast majority of couples entering domestic partnerships will be same-sex, the release outlined concerns that the Cayman Islands would be essentially creating a public record of homosexuality.
“We can state with some confidence that our clients, domestic and foreign, will balk at the idea of their sexuality existing in a catalogued in a separate and readily searchable public record,” the release states.
“The majority of the Islands’ destination wedding clients are from the United States where ‘marriage’ between same-sex couples is the norm, not the exception. The concept of a public record of homosexuality may discourage destination weddings.”
The release called the bill’s creation of a new office, that of domestic partnership officer, to perform same-sex weddings as unnecessary, given that civil registrars are already empowered as a secular, legal entity to oversee such ceremonies.
Simply Weddings questioned why the bill establishes the deputy governor as the authority empowered to approve domestic partnership officers, when the governor is the one who currently handles appointments of civil registrars and marriage officers.
The bill establishes a “separate and distinct regime” for domestic partnerships from that created under the Marriage Law, the release continues, listing several examples of variation in application procedures.
The Marriage Law, for example, requires marriage notices be posted on the Civil Registrar’s external notice board for seven days before the marriage may be performed. In the Domestic Partnership Bill, that period is 14 days.
In several instances, the Domestic Partnership Bill specifies public authorities must be satisfied “there are no lawful impediments to the intended domestic partnership”. Such language is not present in the Marriage Law.
The Basdeo release also objects to the Domestic Partnership Bill’s more restrictive requirements regarding registration with the registrar and expresses concern that this could have an adverse commercial effect on Cayman’s wedding sector.
“Unlike the longstanding regime set out in the Marriage Law where couples are free to apply to their choice of Marriage Officer or Civil Registrar, the Bill proposes that applicants for a domestic partnership must apply to the Registrar at the Government Administration Building,” the release states. “This is entirely uncommercial, because couples expect service, and for that service to come to them, not to be required to seek out that service.”
The inclusion of “maritime domestic partnerships” in the bill was also described as “a transparent assault on the Islands’ destination wedding vendors by the cruise ship industry” that would funnel revenue away from on-island businesses.
- Additional reporting by Kayla Young