In January, the first same-sex marriages will take place in Northern Ireland.
It’s been a long road, but finally we can celebrate having marriage equality in every part of the UK.
Same-sex marriage is still banned in many British Overseas Territories.
Except, that isn’t quite the case. Same-sex marriage is still banned in many British Overseas Territories. Any in many there is no legal recognition of same-sex partnerships at all.
Civil partnerships and marriage equality have been key milestones in our journey towards LGBT equality in the UK. There have been many other vital steps (and many more we need to take), but to have the state recognise your relationship as equal to any other, has enabled us to live more confidently and freely in our communities, at work and in every part of our lives.
At the time of their engagement, the Cayman Islands banned any form of legal union between same-sex couples.
That’s exactly what Chantelle Day and Vicky Bodden Bush wanted for themselves. They have been together for nearly seven years, and got engaged in September 2017, but they quickly realised that because Chantelle was from the Cayman Islands – a British Overseas Territory – their relationship didn’t exist in the eyes of her government. At the time of their engagement, the Cayman Islands banned any form of legal union between same-sex couples.
The couple was faced with an impossible choice: to either get married in the UK and return to the Cayman Islands where their marriage wouldn’t be recognised; or stay and fight for the right to marry the person they love in the place they call home. With support from friends, including local LGBT advocacy group Colours Cayman, they decided to fight for themselves and for every other same-sex couple denied equality in Cayman.
Their initial application for a marriage licence was swiftly rejected.
But they didn’t give up and, earlier this year on 29 March 2019, they, along with the rest of the global LGBT community, celebrated as the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands ruled to legalise same-sex marriage with immediate effect. The court concluded that the ban was not compatible with the couple’s rights under the Cayman Islands constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights, which has effect in British Overseas Territories because the UK Government is a signatory.
The decision was an important victory for LGBT equality, but it was short-lived.
The decision was an important victory for LGBT equality, but it was short-lived. The Government appealed, and Chantelle and Vicky’s marriage was postponed following an interim court order.
Last month the Cayman Island Government won their appeal to overturn the legalisation of same-sex marriage. But the Court of Appeal also said the Government was causing undue pain and suffering by not recognising Chantelle and Vicky’s relationship on an equal basis to marriage, and directed the Cayman Island Government to immediately legislate to offer civil unions which have a ‘legal status equivalent to marriage’ for same-sex couples.
It is clearly not marriage equality.
This is a step forward but, as well as not automatically leading to the introduction of civil unions, it is clearly not marriage equality.
LGBT campaigners have experienced a similar battle in Bermuda. Courts initially legalised marriage in June 2018, before the Government overturned the judgment on appeal. Subsequently, Bermuda legislated to provide civil partnerships, but campaigners went back to court and won. Same-sex marriage was reintroduced in Bermuda and is currently legal, but every marriage has a shadow cast over it, because the Bermuda Government has appealed to the UK Privy Council (which acts as the highest court of appeal for British Overseas Territories) to overturn the judgement and outlaw same-sex marriage all over again.
Meanwhile, legislators in the Cayman Islands are resisting the court's push even to introduce civil unions. A number have used intemperate language in the Assembly and targeted individuals fighting for equality, including the couple themselves. Several members of the Legislative Assembly have even pushed for the deportation of civil rights lawyer and activist Dr Leo Raznovich, who has supported the couple with their fight and is a prominent LGBT advocate in the country.
These actions by legislators, which have continued to stoke hate in the Cayman Islands, are making it even more difficult for LGBT people to live freely. We deplore these actions and call on the Cayman Legislative Assembly to take swift action to comply with their legal obligations and afford LGBT couples the recognition and respect they deserve.
The Cayman Islands appeal judgment says: ‘In the absence of the expeditious action by the Legislative Assembly, we would expect the United Kingdom Government to recognise its legal responsibility and take action to bring this unsatisfactory state of affairs to an end.’
The UK Government also needs to step up.
In the face of inaction by the Cayman Legislative Assembly over an extended period of time, the UK Government also needs to step up. Many of the laws that exist in the British Overseas Territories are there because of anti-LGBT colonial laws introduced by Britain in the last two centuries. Despite self-rule, in the Overseas Territories the UK still has jurisdiction and a duty to LGBT citizens in those territories who are denied equal rights and equal treatment.
In fact, the courts in the Cayman Islands have made clear in their judgments that the UK is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in allowing this unequal treatment to continue in the Cayman Islands and other British Overseas Territories.
That’s why Chantelle Day and Vicky Bodden-Bush are considering appealing to the UK Privy Council too. They shouldn’t have to.
We should all have the right to marry the person that we love, and no one should be left alone in this fight. We stand in solidarity with the Day-Bush family and their supporters in Cayman and the UK. Now the Westminster election is done, Stonewall will be urging ministers in the new Government to act and fulfil its duty to LGBT citizens in all British Overseas Territories.