Cayman Islands barrister and LGBT activist Dr Leonardo Raznovich said he was “in shock” after learning that the UK’s Privy Council this week sided with the government of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, which had banned same-sex marriages.
A shocking blow to LGBT rights was dealt yesterday to LGBT+ communities in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands when four Privy Council judges supported bans on same-sex marriage in the two United Kingdom Overseas Territories.
According to this LBC report, same sex-marriage has always been outlaws in the Cayman Islands, but was legalised five years ago in Bermuda. However, a bill to ban same-sex marriage and establish domestic partnerships was passed in Bermuda in December 2017 and went into effect on June 1, 2018.
In a second LBC report Dr Leonardo Raznovich, above. was quoted as saying he was “in shock” by the decision, and plans to fight it. He told the Associated Press that the ruling was an “affront to human dignity”.
The Cayman Islands case reached the Privy Council after two women—Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush— were denied a marriage license in the Caymans in 2018.
The couple went to court, and in March 2019, the Cayman Grand Court ruled in their favor after stating that the denial violated the law.
But months later, a local appeals court overturned the decision, stating that the Cayman constitution does not allow for same-sex marriage.
However, it ordered the government to provide the women with a legal status equivalent to marriage.
Raznovich said that never happened, and so the legal team sought a ruling from the Privy Council in London.
The case has infuriated some in the Cayman Islands, where several legislators, accused of being homophobic, sought to have Raznovich deported several years ago.
While the British territory of nearly 70,000 people is considered to be socially conservative, Raznovich noted that the Cayman premier gave a speech last year during the Cayman’s first Pride event in 2021.
The Privy Council acknowledged that the historical background of same marriage was:
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.
Judges Lords Reed and Hodge, Lady Arden and Dame Victoria Sharp, backed the ban. Lord Sales was the only judge to dissent.
In May 2017, Bermuda’s Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were legal, but the party that won the general election months later rejected that ruling and allowed only domestic partnerships.
One senator said during the debate at the time:
Society largely does not support same-sex marriage nor is it prepared to accept it at this time.
The issue bounced through various courts until it reached the Privy Council.
Billie Bryan, founder and president of Colours Cayman, an advocacy group supporting the LGBTQ community, said the Privy Council:
Has done nothing more than reassert the oppressive political environment of yesteryear.
The London judges also ruled unanimously that gay people do not have the right to marry in the Cayman Islands based on its constitution.
Caribbean activists had hoped for a favorable 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.
However, judges wrote 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.
Speaking on LBC’s Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Nicola Barker, Professor in Law in the Liverpool Law School, said:
It’s much more significant for the people of Bermuda who are losing a right, than the people of Cayman Islands who never had that right. But it will still be felt strongly by the LGBT community in the Cayman Islands as well.
Barker said, as a result of the response, Bermudan campaigners could take the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights, forcing the UK to justify the move.
We’d have a situation where UK which obviously has same sex marriage itself would be making an argument to try to defend the Bermudan decision. So they’d hire the lawyers and make the argument…
Barker went on to say:
This judgement tracks with the more conservative turn that’s been made by the UK courts recently in terms of human rights. They’ve taken quite a conservative UK approach to human rights and put that on to Bermuda, whereas the Bermuda supreme court and court of appeal had a much more generous interpretation of their own constitution with regards to rights.
Previous same-sex marriages are still valid in Bermuda, but no one new can get married, Ms Barker explained.