While local couples, both same-sex and heterosexual, have been making use of the Civil Partnership Act, LGBTQ+ advocates here say it still falls short of offering the protection needed to be on a par with marriage.
For same-sex couple Alice Hillman-Erskine and her partner Samantha Erskine, registering their relationship was a welcome step, but they say equal rights are still lacking.
“Our mindset is being able to establish our family as it should be. At the moment, I’m still not legally my son (Keithen’s) parent. So that’s one of the top agendas for us. One way or another, we want to make that part of our life legal where I don’t have to be questioned every time we’re travelling as a family,” Hillman-Erksine told the Cayman Compass in a recent Zoom interview.
She said they don’t really travel as a family, though, because of the complexity of leaving the country with him, which requires securing letters and paperwork.
Hoping for more acceptance
The couple was among the first to get their relationship registered under the new law.
To date, as the community marks the one-year anniversary of the legislation, 84 people or 42 couples have registered their relationships locally, and that includes same-sex and heterosexual couples.
42 – Number of civil partnerships registered to date
Hillman-Erskine said she was happy for the law change, since it moved the needle forward when it came to getting some protection for her and her partner.
She said she would like to see further steps taken to address other concerns same-sex couples are encountering as well, adding that she is grateful to Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush for taking up the fight here.
“I am also very thankful for what we have achieved so far… for the people that have been fighting, for Colours Cayman, ‘Chants’ and Vickie and want to give them a big ‘thank you’… I am very grateful, as part of the community and part of a [couple] that has been enjoying all of the benefits,” she added.
She said she is happy to see the community become more accepting of same-sex couples, especially when all they are trying to do is have equal opportunities.
I must say they gave us a little more sense of belonging. We can carry on our family life and be able to plan ahead and do a lot of things that we couldn’t do before. – Alice Hillman-Erskine.
“I must say they gave us a little more sense of belonging. We can carry on our family life and be able to plan ahead and do a lot of things that we couldn’t do before,” Hillman-Erksine said, adding that although the community may not have completely accepted them, she still felt that “people are being more [tolerant] because this bill has passed. It gives us a little bit of more comfort here in the Cayman Islands.”
However, Erskine said there are still challenges for their family, especially when it comes to signing their son up for school and him being accepted, since many schools are Christian-based and their lifestyle is frowned upon.
“For us, the only option is the Cayman International School at Camana Bay, which is very expensive and would take both of our incomes pretty much just to have our son in a school where he’s not bullied or discriminated against. That’s another issue as well,” she said.
Joy Basdeo, of Simply Weddings, who is a marriage officer and Cayman’s first civil partnership registrar, said she believes the community has essentially accepted the law, allowing same-sex couples to formalise their relationships.
“My couples enjoy putting their ceremony together with their readings, with their vows, whether they’re going to do their own vows or whether they’re going to use the vows that we have in the ceremony. I think it’s important that both marriage and same-sex unions or civil unions co-exist, it is important to our society,” she said.
Basdeo, a Catholic by faith, said she had some internal conflict initially on the issue, but she no longer has any reservations about doing civil partnerships.
She said when she first signed up to be a civil partnership registrar, she was asked what would her father think about what she was doing, and she said before he died they had discussed the issue, as they had been planning for the eventuality.
“I know he would be proud that I’m doing them because he was a very forward-thinking person. With civil partnerships, I’m the one that registers them and talks to them and plans the ceremony. I hear their stories. I hear what they have been through. I remember one gentleman telling me what he and his partner have gone through for the last 30 years because he’s Caymanian and his partner is not,” she said.
Basdeo said it has been extremely difficult for a lot of same-sex couples, asking, “Why shouldn’t they have the right to have their union recognised?”
The fight continues
The road to civil partnerships started with the legal battle commenced by same-sex couple Day and Bodden Bush in 2018.
The couple challenged the Marriage Law when their application to wed was rejected. They took their case to court and won. Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled in their favour, changing the definition of marriage and legalising same-sex marriage.
However, government appealed the decision and won in the Court of Appeal, though it was also ordered to remedy the fault in the legislation and provide a framework equivalent to marriage. Day and Bodden Bush, meanwhile, took their case to the UK’s Privy Council to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling. A decision is expected in that matter next month.
The government, led by then-premier Alden McLaughlin, took the Domestic Partnership Bill to the Legislative Assembly. However, three ministers broke rank to vote against the bill in the House.
As a result, Governor Martyn Roper, through the use of his reserve power under Section 81 of the Constitution, upon instruction from the UK, enacted the Civil Partnership Law, paving the way for same-sex couples to register their relationship. Roper also signed amendments for 11 pieces of legislation faciliting the new law.
Roper, in a statement on the anniversary, said it “is a moment for reflection”.
“I know it wasn’t popular with everyone, though very many others welcomed it. I acted to uphold the rule of law and comply with the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal Judgment of November 2019 which declared that same sex couples were entitled, expeditiously, to legal protection in the Cayman Islands, functionally equivalent to marriage.
In the absence of expeditious action by the then Legislative Assembly, the Court made it clear it expected the United Kingdom Government to recognise its legal responsibility and take action to bring this unsatisfactory state of affairs to
He added: “The law is working in the way intended. I sense incremental change in a positive direction in the attitude of people in Cayman to the LGBTQ+ community. Cayman’s first Pride parade in July was also a small step forward as many people came out to recognise and celebrate diversity. I am optimistic… that LGBTQ+ people throughout Cayman society will, over time, feel able to be their true selves in all that they do. That will make us a stronger jurisdiction recognising strength in our diversity and ensuring that everyone’s rights are protected under our Constitution,” Roper said.
We’re all sharing this country together. We want to live harmoniously, I would like to think so anyway, and that does mean respecting each other regardless of what our beliefs and values are or how we love other people. – Billie Bryan, Colours Caribbean.
Though it has been a long fight, Billie Bryan, head of Colours Caribbean, said she is pleased to see how far Cayman has come in the fight for equal rights, but believed the final goal still remains to be attained.
“This is just the start of this fight. We have so much more ground to cover still, marriage equality is important, but it’s the tip of a very big iceberg…. In a nutshell, all of the issues that our community as a whole faces, like lack of representation, lack of legal support, lack of medical aid or health coverage and all of that… the list goes on. We do have our work cut out for us, but I think we’re well on our way,” she said.
Bryan said Colours Caribbean will ensure that same-sex marriage will come to the Cayman Islands and for those who may not want that, she hopes one day they will understand.
“We’re all sharing this country together. We want to live harmoniously, I would like to think so anyway, and that does mean respecting each other regardless of what our beliefs and values are or how we love other people,” Bryan added.
Attorney Leonardo Raznovich, who is part of the legal team appealing the Court of Appeal’s ruling in the Day/Bodden Bush case, said he is hopeful the Privy Council does what is right and ends prejudice against same-sex couples.
He said the civil partnership legislation is a “great asset for the community”.
“Heterosexual couples have the option: marriage or civil partnership. Same-sex couples are secluded or segregated only to civil partnership so far. We’re waiting for the Privy Council to decide whether the constitution requires same sex marriage and equality, or whether the constitution allows for segregation,” he said.
The Privy Council is expected to hand down its ruling in the appeal in October.
Another battle ahead
Meanwhile, Cayman LGBTQ Foundation founder Noel Cayasso-Smith said the number of couples accessing civil partnerships demonstrates “an important leap for the LGBTQ+ community”.
“A good many couples of the same gender are now entitled to the same legal benefits as an opposite-gender couple. At the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation, it is our mission to foster an equitable culture for the LGBTQ+ community within the Cayman Islands, and so the enactment of this law, which was extremely hard-fought, has gone a long way in furthering that goal,” he said.
Raznovich said the community is embracing this new legal framework, but there remains a further hurdle.
A judicial review, due to be heard later this year, has been filed by Kattina Anglin, of the Cayman Islands Civics Society, which is challenging the governor’s use of his powers to enact the legislation.
The danger, Raznovich said, is should the court rule in Anglin’s favour, the couples who have enjoyed their right to legal protection will lose that after a year of stability.