Governor Martyn Roper next week will be finalising changes to the Domestic Partnership Bill, which he intends to rename the Civil Partnership Bill following feedback from the public during the ongoing consultation period.
Roper, in a sit-down interview with the Cayman Compass on Thursday on the same-sex marriage debate, said changing the name of the law was a suggestion put forward by several people.
“Civil partnerships is a better term than domestic partnerships, and civil partnerships is the terminology in the UK as well,” Roper said.
The governor, who plans to assent to the bill and 11 other amendments to various laws, said he is set to meet with Attorney General Samuel Bulgin next week to work through the comments received during the consultation and make changes to the law.
Prior to that, he said he will continue to meet on the issue with public-interest groups, including church leaders and members of the LGBTQ community.
Last month, Roper announced his decision to move ahead with the Domestic Partnership Bill after it failed in the Legislative Assembly.
The bill, which was piloted by Premier Alden McLaughlin, was defeated by one vote. Government members Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Dwayne Seymour and Captain Eugene Ebanks all voted with the Opposition to shoot down the bill.
Roper: ‘I urged against same-sex marriage’
Roper, who acknowledged the decision to press ahead with the law remains a source of discomfort for the community, said he believes it is the “right thing” to do.
“I am personally very sad about where we are because I know a lot of people out there are very upset by this, and I am distressed that this is causing people some sadness, but I don’t think the world is going to change overnight [because of] this. Cayman will continue to maintain its cultural and religious and Christian heritage, but we’re just correcting the legal situation for a minority of people on our islands, including many Caymanians,” he said.
Roper, responding to the Opposition’s call last Friday to “come clean” on the decision to exercise his reserved powers under Section 81 in the Constitution, said this was an issue the UK felt it had to intervene in since local legislators failed to take action.
“As governor, this is not the place I would want to be in at all, but it is about the rule of law, and we can’t just ignore a Court of Appeal judgment which requires us to introduce a legal framework for same-sex couples. We are a jurisdiction that is governed by the rule of law,” he said.
Roper said part of his function as governor is he has to report to the UK on developments in Cayman and, as such, he had to advise the Boris Johnson-led government about the failure of the Domestic Partnership Bill.
He said the UK had two choices when stepping in – either it would be same sex-marriage or would be domestic partnerships/civil partnerships
Roper said he recognised that what the premier and most of his Cabinet tried to do was probably the “best compromise” they could come up with.
He said nobody on either side of the debate was happy with the proposed bill. The LGBT community wanted same-sex marriage, he said, but a lot of people in Cayman don’t want same-sex marriage or civil partnerships.
“So, my advice was that we should try and put in place a bill very similar to the one that was being introduced, and I urged against going for same-sex marriage because I felt that was in Cayman even more sensitive and even more difficult than domestic or civil partnerships,” he said.
When it comes to the premier’s involvement in the process the UK has initiated, Roper said, he did have discussions on the way forward, but McLaughlin’s position after the failure of the proposed law was that it could not be brought back.
“He made it clear this was a matter for the UK; it’s for the UK to decide the next steps. I knew his views and I knew the views of other people about the point we’d reached in Cayman after the defeat of the bill,” he said.
Roper said he held discussions with many people and based his assessment and his advice to London on a “wide range of things”.
Following the interview with the Compass, the governor pointed out on social media that Cayman and the UK remain subject to the European Convention on Human Rights, even after Brexit. He said the ECHR relates to the Council of Europe, not the European Union, and therefore Britain’s exit has no impact on the obligations under the convention.
Comments over Section 81 use ‘alarmist’
As Roper prepares to update the proposed law, he reflected on the way forward for the islands, saying that fears that Section 81 will be used liberally on various issues were unwarranted.
“I’ve seen what some others in our community are saying: ‘Well, this is the first, now this is going to happen again and again, the UK will step in.’ Well, that’s just not correct. That’s unnecessarily alarmist and worries people for no reason. The UK respects Cayman’s autonomy for domestic affairs. This issue touches on an international obligation,” he said.
The governor pointed out that the UK has the right to come in and “put that right”, stressing that there is no reason why anyone should think that this action on this particular issue will then lead to further moves by the UK.
“I think it will be extremely rare that these situations happen. This only ever happened once before that Section 81 has been used. Cayman quite rightly enjoys extensive responsibility for domestic affairs, and that doesn’t change as a result of this. The UK is stepping in because of the situation in the courts,” he said.
The ‘situation’ he referred to was the Court of Appeal action that involved Caymanian couple Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush challenging the local marriage law since it prevented them from getting married in Cayman.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the government was obliged to provide the couple, and all same-sex couples, with rights ‘equivalent to marriage’ and instructed government to introduce legislation to that effect. In the absence of that, the UK must intervene, the court said.
Day and Bodden Bush have taken their fight to the Privy Council.
Roper said he knew the issue will not end with his assent to the legislation, but he urged those in the community to respect each other.
“I appeal to everyone to find it in their hearts to accept that there are people in our community, Caymanians, who are discriminated against, and we are seeking to put that right. But that doesn’t change other people’s faith or beliefs. What it does require is that we accept that there are some people in our society who may have a different belief system, and the best societies, the most successful societies, are those which respect difference and accept difference and live with difference,” the governor said.