The debate over marriage rights for same-sex couples heated up in 2020 with Governor Martyn Roper ultimately using his reserved power to push through a civil partnerships law that had been rejected by Cayman Islands legislators.
The law allows same-sex couples to enter into legally sanctioned partnerships that offer similar legal rights to marriage.
It was drafted in an effort to satisfy a 2019 Court of Appeal ruling that Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush, a Cayman Islands couple who brought a legal challenge to the islands’ marriage laws, were entitled to legal protection for their relationship, “functionally equivalent to marriage”.
The Court of Appeal overturned an earlier Grand Court ruling that legalised same-sex marriage. However, the panel of judges ruled that Cayman’s failure to offer any legal rights to same-sex couples violated its own Constitution and international human rights legislation.
They stated that the Cayman Islands legislature had an obligation to act quickly to amend this violation.
The ruling stated, “It would be wholly unacceptable for this declaration to be ignored…. there can be no justification for further delay or prevarication.”
In June 2020, the Cayman Islands government submitted a Domestic Partnership Bill to the Legislative Assembly in an effort to meet this requirement, without legalising same-sex marriage.
The bill failed to be passed into law, however, as Opposition legislators combined with government rebels to ensure its defeat. Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour and backbencher Captain Eugene Ebanks joined the Opposition in voting down the bill, largely citing religious reasons. Ezzard Miller was the only non-government member to vote for the bill.
During the debate, the premier and other speakers supporting the bill repeatedly indicated that if the Cayman Islands legislature failed to address the lack of legislation regarding legal same-sex partnerships, then the UK would be forced to step in and impose such a law.
McLaughlin told legislators, “The UK is hugely embarrassed that the Court of Appeal has found it necessary to call on them to act… because of our continuing failure as a legislature to do so.”
Shortly after the bill was voted down, the UK did just that.
Roper used his reserved power under Section 81 of the Constitution to bring the bill into law, renaming it the Civil Partnership Law.
A side effect of the impasse was that the UK took the repeal of Section 81 off the table in constitutional reform talks.
Passing the law on 4 Sept., Roper said, “Today we will end the discrimination being suffered by Caymanians and others on our islands whilst protecting the institution of marriage.
“This action does not alter or undermine the strong Christian heritage and values of the people of the Cayman Islands. No one is being asked to change their long-held beliefs.”
Meanwhile, the battle for full marriage rights for same-sex couple continues.
Day and Bodden Bush have filed an appeal to the UK Privy Council over the decision of the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal to overturn Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s initial decision to alter the islands’ Marriage Law to allow full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
That case is expected to be heard in London in 2021.