UK Privy Council blocks gay marriage for Cayman Islands and Bermuda

Cayman Islands

Activists supporting same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda received a heavy blow Monday following a ruling by a top appeals court in London.

The United Kingdom’s Privy Council, which serves as the final court of appeals for several islands in the Caribbean, sided with the government of Bermuda, which had fought a local Supreme Court’s decision to allow gay marriage.

The Privy Council also ruled that gays don’t have the right to marry in the Cayman Islands based on its Constitution.

“I’m in shock,” Leonardo Raznovich, an attorney who represented a gay couple seeking to get married in the Cayman Islands, told local media. “The decision is an affront to human dignity.”

Raznovich said he plans to fight the Privy Council’s decision.

Caribbean activists had hoped for a favourable ruling to help sway public opinion in a largely conservative region where colonial anti-sodomy laws remain on the books and same-sex marriage is rarely considered a right.

“It’s taken us some time to get here. … We’ve had to jump over a few hurdles. It would definitely act as a beacon of hope for the entire region,” said Billie Bryan, founder and president of Colours Cayman, a nonprofit advocacy group for the LGBTQ community.

“The Privy Council has done nothing more, by its decision, than reassert the oppressive political environment of yesteryear.”

One of five judges in the Bermuda case dissented. In its judgement, the Privy Council acknowledged that the historical background of marriage is “one of the stigmatisation, denigration and victimisation of gay people, and that the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples may create among gay people a sense of exclusion and stigma.”

However, it said that “international instruments and other countries’ constitutions cannot be used to read into (Bermuda’s constitution) a right to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.”

Meanwhile, the ruling was unanimous in the Cayman Islands’ case, with judges writing that “the effect of the board’s interpretation is that this is a matter of choice for the legislative assembly rather than a right laid down in the constitution.”

The Cayman Islands’ case reached the Privy Council after two women — Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush — were denied a marriage license in 2018. The couple, who recently adopted a daughter, went to court, and in March 2019, the Cayman Grand Court ruled in their favour after stating that the denial violated the law. Months later, a local appeals court overturned the decision, stating that the Cayman Constitution doesn’t allow for same-sex marriage. However, it ordered the government to provide the women with a legal status equivalent to marriage.

That didn’t happen, Raznovich said.

As a result, the legal team sought a ruling from the Privy Council in London.