The Domestic Partnership Bill’s defeat in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday may have shown a divided legislature, but Finance Minister Roy McTaggart said that is where the division ends.
McTaggart, speaking with the Cayman Compass on Wednesday afternoon following the historic vote in the Legislative Assembly, said although two of his Cabinet colleagues voted against the bill, it will not affect the cohesion of the National Unity government.
“I don’t believe so. I don’t, by any means, believe so. I still think that we are still cohesive. It was a matter of conscience and choice,” McTaggart said following the vote.
The finance minister said he had “every confidence” that he and his colleagues were united going into the second half of the legislative session, which will include consideration of budget appropriations.
McTaggart said he respected his colleagues’ votes, and it was to Premier Alden McLaughlin’s credit that he released government members of their collective responsibility and allowed a conscience vote.
The bill went to a vote at the end of the premier’s presentation on Wednesday in the Legislative Assembly.
McLaughlin, in his contribution, expressed disappointment, saying that he had left the Legislative Assembly “disillusioned” on Tuesday night after hearing the debate on the bill that he presented to the House on Monday.
Although he did not say it outright, McLaughlin seemed to hint at even considering bowing out of his post.
“I will say this, were it not that this country is still in a most precarious and dangerous situation with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, my speech today would end very, very differently than it will. But I love my country and I love my people even more than I love my own convenience and personal peace and satisfaction,” the premier said.
The vote ended with nine lawmakers opposing the bill and eight supporting it. The premier’s speech begins at 1:15:07 and is followed by the vote.
Ministers Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Dwayne Seymour, together with Councillor Eugene Ebanks, voted with the Opposition, leading to the bill’s defeat.
Seymour, in a short statement to the Compass, said, “I was pleased with my vote and my conscience.”
McLaughlin, who left the Legislative Assembly building after the vote, simply said, “My grandfather used to say, ‘Do your duty and be blessed or do your duty and be damned but do your duty.’ I have done my duty.”
Mixed views on the way forward
Independent opposition member North Side MLA Ezzard Miller voted for the bill. He expressed his disappointment with the turn of events, saying the defeat of the bill should not be hailed as a victory.
Miller said, had the vote gone the other way, legislators would have given local same-sex couples the right to enter into a legal domestic partnership in the Cayman Islands.
It would not have been the same as marriage, which is reserved for a union between a man and a woman, but it would have provided similar protections for those who enter into such partnerships.
Now, he said, it is left to the United Kingdom.
“This is why I tend to agree with the premier’s prediction (that the UK will enforce same-sex marriage) because I think we have tied the hands of the governor and the UK in our unwillingness to act. In that action to protect the things that Caymanians want protected, we have now forced them to do what is necessary to comply with a court order and comply with the International Court of Human Rights,” Miller argued.
McLaughlin, in his speech, said he does not think the UK will waste time to act on the “inevitable”.
He said the UK could act as quickly as within 30 days. “Remember that, when it occurs, it occurs because members of this House decided that a domestic partnership arrangement was not satisfactory, was going to be disastrous, was going to undermine marriage in the Cayman Islands,” he said.
Miller said the bill now falls away but what it attempted to do was to address the things religious leaders had been asking for.
“The people who were against the bill wanted four things. They wanted to protect the sanctity of marriage as a God-ordained ceremony. They wanted to the Constitution to remain intact in terms of its elevation of their religious marriage ceremony. They wanted their ministers who were licensed as marriage officers to be able to say ‘I’m not going to marry somebody because it’s against my Christian beliefs’ and they wanted to protect their sanctuaries. Now, interestingly enough, the bill does all four things,” he said.
Opposition Leader Arden McLean stood by his decision to reject the bill, saying that he did not think it achieved what the majority wanted.
He said, had there been proper consultation, the result may have been different.
“I believe that happy ground in this must be for us all to come together and we pay respect for all sides.
“I think if we sit down with the churches, with the leaders in our communities, and we come to some agreement on how we’re going to approach this and, even if it’s this bill and you revamp it … because it falls way short in a lot of things…, I believe that would be the happy medium in this country. It has been done in other countries,” McLean said.
Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders agreed that there can be a way forward on the issue, but he said it would takes partnership to achieve a result that suits all sides of the divide.
He did not agree with Governor Martyn Roper’s statement on the result of the vote, nor his comment alluding to UK discussions.
“The governor has shown, at the end of the day, he is here to represent the UK interest. I’m here to represent the interests of the Caymanian people. This has been an agenda for him. I am sorry, we have more pressing issues for the Caymanian people to deal with. So, I really don’t care what the governor thinks,” Saunders said.
He was responding to Roper’s statement in which the governor said it was a sad day for the rule of law and that “UK Ministers will consider carefully the implications of the Bill’s defeat”.
West Bay North MLA Bernie Bush, who voted against the bill, urged the government to see the lesson in Wednesday’s defeat and change its approach.
“It did not surprise me one bit. Sometimes, I’m wondering if this was not designed to fail. It’s a very simple thing. I know there’s a need for something, but it has to be the right thing and the people of the country have to have some input into it. This thing that they brought before us was bound to fail,” Bush argued.
Local LGBTQ group Colours Cayman, in a brief post on Twitter, said it was “appalled” by the action in the Legislative Assembly. The advocacy group said a further statement will be issued.
Chantelle Day, who together with her partner Vickie Bodden Bush, sued the government to get married in Cayman, declined comment. She said she would make a statement soon.