Although Cayman’s same-sex couples legally can now enter into formal partnerships and enjoy the same rights as married couples following Governor Martyn Roper’s assent of the Civil Partnership Law last week, the process to execute the legislation will take not take effect until later this month.
Roper, who assented to the law on 4 Sept., gave the Civil Service 21 days to prepare the administrative aspects of rolling out the legal framework for civil partnerships, including drawing up the necessary paperwork, register and approvals.
Head of the Civil Service, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, told the Cayman Compass Wednesday that his team was working to get the mechanisms in place to give effect to the legislation.
“The Civil Service is developing the necessary documents and procedures to ensure the implementation of the CPL within the 21-day period. We have staff in place that will be responsible for processing applications under the CPL. We expect to issue more details to the public shortly,” he said in an emailed response to Compass queries.
Manderson and the team at the General Registry were expected to meet Friday, 11 Sept., to firm up plans to implement the legislation.
While that work continues behind the scenes, Simply Weddings’ Joy Basdeo, a civil registrar of marriages, has been making her own preparations to get approval to conduct civil-partnership ceremonies.
“We are just waiting to get our approval because, under the law, I would have to apply for and be approved as civil registrar for civil partnerships. I have made my application, I am waiting to see what happens,” Basdeo told the Compass in a telephone interview.
She said she already has two couples waiting for her to perform their civil partnerships.“We are ready as soon we get approval from the governor to do the ceremony. I had several inquiries; people are just waiting. People called me the day the law was approved. People are ready, people have been waiting a long time for this. I am just waiting for approval and we are going to do it,” she said.
Basdeo said she has been looking at all the paperwork necessary to give effect to the law – the civil registrar certificate, the public notices, the vows that have to be said, and the statutory acknowledgment that has to be submitted.
She said she too had to make changes to be in line with the new law.
“I was ordering envelopes that we give with the certificates and I would usually put ‘marriage certificate’, now we changed it to ‘certificate’. We have redesigned the certificates for the civil partnerships,” she said.
The new law also allows for heterosexual couples who do not wish to get married to register a civil partnership for legal purposes.
How we got here
Cayman’s road to creating a legal framework for same-sex couples to formalise their relationships has been a bumpy one.
Same-sex couple Caymanian Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush challenged the Marriage Law in their bid to get married in the Cayman Islands two years ago.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie upheld their claim and, in his judgment last year, reworded the Marriage Law. The government appealed this, and the Court of Appeal overturned the chief justice’s ruling.
However, the appeals court judges recommended that if the Cayman Islands government failed to provide Day and Bodden Bush and other couples with legal status equivalent to marriage, the UK government should step in.
The Court of Appeal ruling 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.”
The issue of same-sex marriages remains a divisive one, not just in the public sphere but also inside the Legislative Assembly.
In July, Premier Alden McLaughlin brought before the House the Domestic Partnership Bill, which would provide legal status for same-sex couples while retaining the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The premier appealed to MLAs to support the bill; however, even within his own ranks there was division on the issue and two of his ministers – Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Dwayne Seymour – together with government backbencher Captain Eugene Ebanks, voted with the Opposition to shoot down the bill. It was defeated by nine votes to eight.
The governor days later, as predicted by the premier, moved to formalise same-sex relationships through the re-introduction of the bill. He later assented to an amended version that was renamed the Civil Partnership Law.
Roper also assented to amendments to 11 pieces of associated legislation.
Basdeo said she does not anticipate any other problems in moving civil partnerships forward.
She said when she first posted banns for Day and Bodden Bush in April 2018, people messaged her and wrote emails objecting to the union.
“Not a single soul has said anything to me. I haven’t had any emails, WhatsApp or anyone telling me anything, like why I am doing this, like before. I think it is because it is partnerships and not marriage,” she added.
Challenge for same-sex relationships continues
Although Roper may have assented to the new law, the battle over same-sex unions is not over.
Kattina Anglin, public relations officer for the Christian Association for Civics, has been granted legal aid to challenge the governor’s use of his reserved powers to push through the law.
Day and Bodden Bush have filed an appeal with the Privy Council challenging the Court of Appeal’s ruling in their case. The hearing is set for February.
Colours Cayman has submitted its application to be added to the matter before the Privy Council in support of Day and Bodden Bush.
The not-for-profit said it is confident that the law is on its side.
“It is a matter of common sense that a doctrine, born in 1896 with Plessy v Ferguson case in which the US supreme court upheld racial segregation under the separate but equal doctrine and buried by the same court in 1954 with Brown v Board of Education, has no room to breed and brew in the Cayman Islands in 2021,” the statement said.
In the days following the governor’s assent of the law, many came out in support, while others rejected the action.
The premier, in a statement, said he was “utterly humiliated that because of our failure to do our duty as a Legislature, the UK Government has been forced to legislate for us”.
He maintained introducing the Domestic Partnership Bill was the “right thing” to do.
Opposition Leader Arden McLean rejected the premier’s position, claiming that Roper’s action was “the culmination of the Governor’s and the Premier’s ill-conceived plan to impose the Domestic Partnership Bill into law using colonial heavy handedness”.
Independent opposition MLA Ezzard Miller, in a statement to the Compass, said he did not see Anglin’s legal challenge going far as it touches on inquiring into instructions issued to the governor. Those instructions are protected under Section 31 (4) of the Constitution, he argued.
Miller was the lone member of the opposition to vote with McLaughlin and his team in favour of the bill.