MLA Kenneth Bryan held a snap poll at the Constitution Hall on Saturday to gauge whether his George Town Central constituents want him to vote in favour or against a Domestic Partnership Bill.
The bill seeks to provide a legal framework for same-sex couples to enter into a formal union, and will be presented by the government in the Legislative Assembly on Monday.
In an interview with the Cayman Compass, Bryan said the proposed law merited the unusual step of holding a vote among constituents, because “this bill is not your average bill” and will have “some dramatic changes”.
Bryan said there was still a legal challenge to the Privy Council over the case and Cayman’s Constitution was unclear on the matter. This, combined with strong feelings about same-sex marriages in the community and moral questions around Cayman’s Christian heritage, means that the issue is “complicated” and “ambiguous”, he said.
The George Town Central MLA believes that ultimately the issue should have been addressed in a referendum, even if it was non-binding, “to give the government a good clear direction as to what the feeling of the public is”.
Bryan said his position on the bill will solely be guided by the feedback he receives from constituents. “I don’t think this is a choice, just for me as a representative to make,” he said. “As a representative of a body of people with the ambiguity as to what’s going on, I have to be guided by my people.”
He said, “I think anybody who is in that house [the Legislative Assembly] and makes this decision without feedback from their people is making a big mistake.”
By early Saturday afternoon “just over 100 hundred people” had cast their vote, Bryan said. He add that the vote was going to be followed up on Sunday by him going to the doors of elderly or disabled people who are unable to leave their homes, and by reaching out to others via video link.
Bryan said he was hoping to get the opinion of many more than just 250 constituents, but the 30-day public consultation period meant there was limited time to advertise and fix a location, with some COVID-19 restrictions still applying.
The proposed law seeks to address a Court of Appeal ruling in the Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush case. The women had challenged the constitutionality of the marriage law and sought the right to marry in Cayman. A first-instance decision by the Grand Court granting the right was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which ruled that Cayman’s Constitution preserved marriage for opposite-sex couples only.
However, the appeals court ruled that government was obliged to provide same-sex couples with rights ‘equivalent to marriage’ and instructed government to introduce legislation to that effect.
The court said 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.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeal said, “In the absence of expeditious action by the Legislative Assembly, we would expect the United Kingdom Government to recognise its legal responsibility and take action to bring this unsatisfactory state of affairs to an end.”
Bryan said court directions were “a recommendation, a declaration”. “It wasn’t an order.”
However, encouraging constituents to participate in his poll, Bryan said in a Facebook video that, after talks with the governor, “I’m left with the view that if this bill is not passed, the UK will enforce a similar or equivalent legislation based on our obligations to the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Bryan added that this would ultimately mean that if the people of the Cayman Islands were adamant about not having any legislation that recognises relationships of same-sex couples, the only recourse available would be a call for independence.
“Now it’s imperative that I tell you that I do not support or believe that this topic warrants a call for independence,” Bryan said in the video.
Other MLAs have also been inviting feedback from their constituents on the bill, via social media, in recent days.