Love Wins: The Cayman Islands Legalize Same-Gender Marriage

In a move that could have repercussions for several former British territories, the Cayman Islands have officially legalized same-gender marriage.

The move was made possible by a ruling from the island’s top court. In a case involving a lesbian couple, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said that neither religion nor tradition could provide a “rational basis” for the Cayman Islands’ ban on same-gender marriage. The Chief Justice said that the 2008 amendment defining marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman had the perhaps unintended effect of imposing, “indignity, inequality of treatment and inequality of legal status upon same-sex couples”.

In the Friday March 29 ruling the Court also found that, because the legislature had failed to act to remedy this injustice, the two women in question had no choice but to petition the courts. The Court overruled the legislature and will prevent enforcement of the country’s same-gender marriage ban. It will replace the definition in the law that has prevented same-gender marriage by amending it to read ”marriage means the union between two people as one another’s spouses” and deleting, where necessary, the gendered terms “man” and/or “wife” for “spouses”.

Effectively, this should legalize same-gender marriage across the Cayman Islands—but it will still be up to government officials to adhere to the ruling, which isn’t necessarily guaranteed.

The Governor Calls for Tolerance

Chantelle Day, 32, a lawyer, and her partner Vickie Bodden Bush, 44, a nurse brought the case forward. The two were refused a marriage license last year and took the courts to try to remedy this. At every juncture the government has attempted to block their advancing suit, arguing that the religious definition of marriage was rational basis enough to deny same-gender couples access to marriage equality.

In his summary Chief Justice Anthony Smellie highlighted that the government had been given several opportunities to head this suit off, including the creation of civil unions which, in terms of rights, would have allowed Day and Bush parity with their straight counterparts. The legislature and government refused to act.

After the decision the couple is quoted as saying “Love wins”.

Meanwhile, the government has not officially declared what it now intends to do about the ruling. Governor Martyn Roper has made a call for tolerance while emphasizing respect for the independent judiciary on the Islands, saying: “At this time I believe it is important that all of us continue to show tolerance and respect to others, particularly when we hold different views. I also believe that our highly respected, and independent, judicial system in the Cayman Islands continues to underpin our success. It protects our prosperity, constitution, good governance and our security.”

If there is to be a challenge to this ruling it is likely on whether the Chief Justice and the Court as a whole has the power to change the definition of marriage in this way. The Court has been clear, however, that it has not legislated from the bench in terms of making new laws. It has simply stricken the marriage definition’s unconstitutional language and brought it into step with the Cayman Islands’ governing principles of equality for all citizens.

The Ruling Could Have a Big Impact

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office welcomed the ruling, but it has been quick to say that the decision could not be used to impose same-gender marriage on other “self-governing” jurisdictions. There may be sound post-colonial reasons for not using this to leverage former British territories, but the UK is also attempting to head off a particularly tricky situation closer to home: that of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom to not have same-gender marriage while its neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, famously won marriage equality by public vote. Northern Ireland currently holds a great deal of power in UK politics, as it is propping up Theresa May’s fractious Conservative leadership. Already strained due to Brexit, the British government can’t afford any further reasons to argue with Northern Ireland.

Yet, some analysts say that as former British territories legalize same-gender marriage (the Cayman Islands now joining Bermuda in having marriage equality) the rationale for not forcing Northern Ireland grows weaker. Northern Ireland is very much still part of the UK’s political structure, even if it has some devolved powers.

Jonathan Cooper, a British barrister on the couple’s legal team, told Reuters that this should be a wakeup call for the British government. “When will this government put its money where its mouth is and mainstream LGBT equality across the board?”

Currently, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands and Anguilla are all former British territories that do not allow same-gender marriage. While this suit can’t compel these nations to change their laws, many have the same legal frameworks as a result of their laws stemming from former British rule. A victory for marriage equality in one does provide energy for LGBT people in these other former British territories to mount their own legal bids and it puts their governments on the back foot in explaining why they insist on retaining these bans.

While this may not be the sweeping change that same-gender couples in the region deserve, it is very much another step forward, and one that could create several more such steps in relatively quick succession.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

43 comments

Lesa D
Lesa D1 days ago

thank you Steve...

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pam w
pam w3 days ago

Good for them!

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Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill5 days ago

thanks

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill7 days ago

good news

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Joan E
Joan E8 days ago

Congratulations.

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Christine V
Christine V9 days ago

Yay! I hope the rest of the world follows.

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Clara S
Barbara S9 days ago

thank you

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Tania N
Tania N9 days ago

Thank you

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Tania N
Tania N9 days ago

Thank you

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Tania N
Tania N9 days ago

Thank you

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