(CNS): All of the independent MLAs sitting on the opposition benches have signed and supported a private members motion moved by Anthony Eden calling on government to hold a referendum on the recognition of same-sex unions in local law before the 2017 General Election. None of the five members are in support of lawful gay unions and are hoping Cayman would vote ‘No’. The call comes not because government has any plans to introduce any lawful union for gay couples but because the immigration tribunal established the legal requirement to recognize same-sex dependents for the purposes of work permits.
The PPM government has made no announcements about any intention to introduce gay marriage, or any type of lawful union or regime between same-sex couples that would protect the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community (LGBT) – not least because there are few members of the ‘Progressive’ government that are, in fact, progressive on this issue.
Wayne Panton remains the only minister who has offered his full support for the LGBT community in the face of the extremely controversial attacks by Eden, in particular, on that community and has recognised the need to move towards such rights. Premier Alden McLaughlin, meanwhile, falling well short of offering his support to gay unions, has at least called for tolerance from his political colleagues and an end to discriminatory language.
But the independent members have pointed to comments made last year by McLaughlin that triggered Eden’s resignation from the government benches and the party of which he was a founding member.
McLaughlin, aware of the requirements of the law and the constitution, had indicated that the Cayman government would need to “explore” the possibility of adjusting the immigration framework in order to facilitate dependents of same-sex couples coming to work in Cayman.
This was before the IAT made its findings in a case relating to the application of a lawyer at Maples and Calder to add his legal male spouse, another attorney, to his work permit – that the law already provided for legally married gay partners to be dependents.
The Independent MLAs have suggested that even this small step in the journey to eliminate the massive discrimination faced by members of the LGBT community is too much for Cayman. The motion states that, despite the requirements in the law and the Bill of Rights, there has been “no mandate to the political directorate to alter the status quo” and the “legal recognition of same-sex marriages and unions does not accord with Christian values and principles” in the Marriage Law (2010 Revision) or the Constitution – neither of which, however, have been changed by the findings of the IAT.
Nevertheless, grasping what they believe is the continued homophobic, conservative religious sentiment and general discrimination not just against the idea of same-sex unions but the entire concept of LGBT people being allowed to be who they are, the independent MLAs are confident that Cayman would not support the recognition of gay marriage or anything that looks like it.
In June Bermuda rejected same-sex marriage in a non-binding referendum. While those that voted were roundly against it, the low turnout meant the result was invalid.
With an estimated current population of over 60,000 people in Cayman but just 18,457 on the electoral roll, it is very possible that a referendum would deliver a similar result here, despite the growing acceptance of gay rights among younger members of the community and residents who are originally from elsewhere or locals who have lived in countries with same-sex partner legislation.
The PPM government is unlikely to accept the motion to hold a referendum in the nine months before election day. But the premier will need to hold the three-line whip as the discriminatory beliefs held by the mover and supporter of the motion are not confined to the opposition benches.
Although they did not sign the document, the UDP/CDP members are likely to support it, since Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush has already publicly stated his desire to see a referendum on the matter, giving the independents eight votes versus an already tight situation of just nine members on the government benches.
Just one abstention there could give the casting vote to the Speaker, who, despite being a government member, is one of those opposed to gay rights.
Even if the government loses the motion, holding a national referendum before the general election would prove to be a costly logistical nightmare – though it would be easier and cheaper to hold such a poll alongside the General Election.
But even if there is no referendum, the motion provides the members with yet another opportunity to inflame a sensitive situation and stir up more discrimination and bigotry. Based on previous debates in the Legislative Assembly, the language used and the notions aired have been shocking and upsetting, not just for members of LGBT but others who can see no legitimate reason for discriminating against anyone, let alone for their gender or sexual orientation.