GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands– The Court of Appeal in the Cayman Islands has sided with the government of the British Overseas Territory, overturning a lower court’s ruling that granted marriage equality. At the same time, the government has been ordered to move to quickly establish a marriage equivalent for same-sex couples.
The ruling handed down last week overturned Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s decision handed down back in March this year, in a judgment brought by Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush who were seeking the right to marry. Smellie had ordered the government to amend its marriage law to define marriage as the union of two people, not between a man and a woman.
The government challenged Smellie’s ruling in the Court of Appeal. And in its decision, the Court said: “Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush are entitled, expeditiously, to legal protection in the Cayman Islands, which is functionally equivalent to marriage.”
“It would be wholly unacceptable for this declaration to be ignored. Whether or not there is an appeal to the Privy Council in respect of same-sex marriage, there can be no justification for further delay or prevarication,” the court continued, adding that if the Cayman Islands government did not act, the United Kingdom should intervene.
Reacting to the decision, Premier Alden McLaughlin said he was pleased that the Court of Appeal had agreed with government that the original ruling of the chief justice “created significant ambiguity” surrounding the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as well as the interpretation of and ability of the court to amend laws.
And while he acknowledged the need to address the matter expeditiously, he said the government could not do so “hastily”, and indicated that the Legislative Assembly was unlikely to deal with the issue of same-sex marriage until early 2020.
“Given that we have before us a two-year budget to get through, as well as a referendum, I do not see this honourable House turning our attention to this issue before early next year,” McLaughlin said.
However, he added: “I believe the responsible thing for this House to do is to face up to this issue and take its own decision….It is clear to me that if this legislature does not provide the legal framework that provides the protections for same-sex couples in a form that is acceptable to all Caymanians, then undoubtedly we will end up with the UK levying upon us protections that suit them rather than us.”
McLaughlin said that while Cayman Islands had in the past accused the UK of interfering in matters that should be decided by Caymanians, “by the same token, we cannot abdicate responsibility for taking the hard decisions when they are staring us in the face”.