GOVERNOR’S MOVE ON DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP BILL DIVIDES OPINION
Reaction has been swift and varied to the announcement by HE Governor Martyn Roper that he will exercise his reserve powers under the constitution to enact the Domestic Partnership Bill into law by September.
This has also led to a scrutiny of the Governor’s authority enshrined in Article 81 of the Cayman islands constitution relative to this issue.
The bill was rejected by the Legislative Assembly last week.
While Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin has said the Governor’s action was to be expected under the circumstances, the Opposition is questioning the Governor’s motives.
On the other hand, rights organisations which have been campaigning for same-sex marriage have welcomed the Governor’s decision.
In his statement after the Bill was voted down in the Legislative Assembly, Mr Roper also announced that after a 21-day consultation period, the Bill, with possible amendments depending on what arises during the consultation, will be made law in early September.
That consultation period is set to start on Monday August 10th.
Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin, defending his administration's decision to bring the bill to parliament following a court directive in the case at the centre of the issue, has said that this outcome should have been expected.
“I pointed out several times that if the Legislative Assembly did not do its duty then the UK Government or the Courts would stand in for us and do what is required under law.”
“This was entirely to be expected,” the Premier said in his statement.
He called it "a very shameful event and one that should have been avoided.”
In his assessment of the current situation, Mr McLaughlin went on to say that the matter now has even deeper implications for Cayman.
Referring to ongoing negotiations with the UK to allow Cayman more authority within the constitution, Mr McLaughlin felt now risks being jeopardised.
“The failure of the Legislative Assembly to do its duty last Wednesday has set back our efforts at increased autonomy immeasurably."
“What is also regrettable as a result of this," he said, "is that the UK will undoubtedly now decide to retain Section 81 of the Constitution despite my having gotten them to agree to remove it as part of the pending Constitutional changes."
He went on to state that: “I have always argued that it is unwise to encourage, and even worse to force the UK, as we have done, to act on behalf of the Legislative Assembly as having done so once they may find it easier to do so again in other circumstances.
The failure of the Legislative Assembly to do its duty last Wednesday has set back our efforts at increased autonomy immeasurably.”
OFFICIAL OPPOSITION WEIGHS IN
In its first statement on the matter, the Official Opposition said it wants the correspondence between the Governor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the issue to be made public.
The group of MLAs headed by Hon. MLA Arden McLean says they have “written to the Governor requesting copies of the correspondence between his office and the FCO that has resulted in his decision to take the above course of action.
“We feel that for such a divisive, contentious and emotive issue it would be in the interest of good governance to have full and transparent disclosure so that the Caymanian people can have no doubts regarding the position of the U.K. Government.”
The statement says they are now awaiting the Governor’s response to this request and will issue a further statement once that has been received.
Since then, the leader Arden McClean and Deputy leader Alva Suckoo have been on the air (Radio Cayman’s For The Record with host, Orrett Connor) discussing a range of associated issues regarding the powers of the Governor.
Those included a viewpoint that the Governor's announced period of consultation was instead just a matter of a notification pending the enactment of the legislation.
The policy position of the previous UK government of then-prime minister Theresa May that the broad matter of same-sex marriage was a matter for the Cayman Islands and the other Overseas Territories was again brought up.
The issue of independence was also broached in the discussion, as was the timing of the tabling of the Domestic Partnership Bill in the LA relative to the pending issue of same-sex marriage currently before the Privy Council.
In his statement advising that he would be exercising his authority under Section 81 of the Cayman Islands constitution, Governor Roper had pointed out:
"Despite calls in many quarters for the UK to legislate for same-sex marriage, the FCO decided that passing a version of the current Bill would be the right approach as this would fully comply with the Court of Appeal judgment.”
The Opposition was also querying the meaning of “passing a version of the current Bill”.
In his own statement, Premier Alden McLaughlin had also raised the issue of the shape of what was likely to emanate from the Governor’s intervention.
“The result is that some version of the Domestic Partnership Bill will become law in a few weeks without further reference to the Legislative Assembly. What form this law will take is now beyond our control and will be decided by the UK and the Governor” he noted.
While the issue at hand is that of Domestic Partnership, the overriding issue of same-sex marriage has been referred to the Privy Council and a decision is expected early next year.
MLA BRYAN CONCERNED
Also speaking out on the issue has been Independent Opposition MLA Kenneth Bryan.
Examining the statement by the Governor on the programme Cayman Crosstalk with host Woody DaCosta, Mr Bryan was particularly scathing of the handling of the matter by Premier McLaughlin and Governor Roper.
The interpretation of what’s meant by “a version” of the Domestic Partnership Bill was also a prominent feature of Mr Bryan’s discourse,
while scrutinising the Governor's statement, especially the issue of consultation.
“The Governor is right in line with the Premier selling this narrative to the people of this country that his hands are tied, that there’s no other options and we got to do this.”
“It’s a load of rubbish and its lies!” the George Town Central MLA declared.
In this statement, Governor Roper had outlined that:
“Acting on instructions from the Foreign Secretary, I intend to publish on 10 August the Domestic Partnership Bill and allow 21 days consultation for the public and Members of the Legislative Assembly. My team and that of the Attorney-General will be available to consider any additional comments on the provisions of the Bill.
“At the end of this period, acting under instructions from the Foreign Secretary, I will use my Reserved Powers under Section 81 of the Constitution to assent to the Bill. I expect it to be gazetted and come into law at the beginning of September.”
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION BACKS GOVERNOR
Meanwhile, the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission has thrown its support behind the Governor on the Domestic Partnership Bill issue.
“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures particularly when addressing human-rights infractions,” it said in a press release.
“We know that His Excellency the Governor made his decision with due care and concern for the entire jurisdiction. His decision provides for the upholding of our own Bill of Rights under the Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Human Rights Commission supports His Excellency in his stance for the furtherance of the Bill to be enacted as Law.”
The HRC said the next few weeks are crucial as an additional consultation period will begin on 10 August 2020 to ensure that a sound decision is made for the finalization of the Bill.
“It is paramount, as society, that all review the Bill and provide comments in line with the consultation period to ensure that no one in our country is left marginalised.”
The Commission reiterated that “during this time that we are all duty-bound to treat each other with courtesy, dignity and respect and to reject intolerance and discrimination.”