Cayman Islands legalises same-sex marriage in historic ruling

Ruling likely to have widespread implications

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 29 March 2019 15:53 GMT
Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden with their legal team
Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden with their legal team (Judy Canseco)

The Cayman Islands has legalised same-sex marriage after a judge ruled prohibitions on such relationships was unconstitutional.

The decision marked a personal victory - and the end of a tough legal battle - for Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden, who had last year applied to get married in the islands but were turned down.

But activists say Friday’s ruling could also have implications for LGBT+ rights on other British overseas territories, which have their own legal systems.

Around 80 people were present in the court in George Town on Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands making up the territory, to hear the ruling by chief justice Anthony Smellie.

After the decision, Ms Day, a lawyer, told The Independent: “We’re feeling pretty good, pretty relieved, that we got the judgment.”

Jonathan Cooper, one of a team of British barristers who represented the women, said the ruling had widespread implications, not just for LGBT+ rights in other overseas territories, especially in the Caribbean, but also in Britain.

He said it was outrageous the couple had been forced to fight a legal battle with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which had in effect opposed the couple’s application to marry.

The governor of the Cayman Islands is appointed by the FCO and two in succession opposed proposals to change the law. The islands' current governor, Martin Roper, had declined to intervene in the islands' government's decision to oppose the marriage application even though he last year told local media: “My view is that everybody is equal and everyone should have the same rights."

As it was, the couple were forced to fight a civil case in the Cayman Islands, where Ms Day, who is a Caymanian, was born on the island, Ms Bodden, a British citizen since 2010, travelled to the islands from the UK on a work permit, which is required for British citizens. It was there that they met.

When The Independent wrote about their case last year, it noted the couple could have married in the UK but it would not have been be recognised back in the Cayman Islands.

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“Chantelle and Vickie should not have been forced to litigate in order to have their relationship recognised in law,” said Mr Cooper. “It’s a scandal that the FCO made them do this. When will this government put its money where its mouth is and mainstream LGBT equality across the board?”

In his ruling, Mr Smellie ordered that section 2 of the Marriage Law be changed to state that “marriage” means “the union between two people as one another’s spouses”.

According to the Cayman Compass he added: “This court is bound not to allow the violation of the petitioners’ rights to continue without redress. The constitution, in its mandatory requirement that the law be brought into conformity, must prevail. The petitioners and their daughter are entitled to the indignities to which they have been subjected being put to an immediate end by the court.”

Friday’s ruling means of the 20 jurisdictions over which the UK has a legal relationship, 15 now permit same-sex marriage. Northern Ireland permits civil partnerships, while four overseas territories in the Caribbean - British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands and Anguilla - permit neither marriage or civil partnership. Bermuda supreme court legalised same-sex marriage last year.

Barrister Peter Laverack, another member of the legal team, was in Grand Cayman on Friday for the ruling.

“Chantelle's and Vickie's relationship finally has been recognised. For too long they and their daughter were denied what loving couples and ordinary families take for granted,” he said.

Ms Day said she thought it deeply wrong that in 2019 she and her Ms Bodden had been forced to fight for the right to marry in court. She said they had tried to persuade the island to change its law without going to court.

“We did not want to put ourselves through this,” she said. She said the couple were celebrating with friends and family. They have not yet set a date for their wedding.

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