Same-sex marriage in Bermuda and Cayman Islands blocked by a UK court

A United Kingdom Court supported local legislation in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands where same-sex marriage is forbidden.

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The United Kingdom’s Privy Council on March 14 ruled against two cases in the Cayman Islands and in Bermuda that sought to grant more rights regarding same-sex marriage.

The Privy Council backed the decision of the government of Bermuda that fought a local Supreme Court’s decision to allow gay marriage. It also ruled that gays don’t have the right to marry in the Cayman Islands according to its Constitution.

The Council is based in London and acts as the final court of appeal for several islands in the Caribbean.

Bermuda’s Supreme Court ruled in May 2017 that same-sex marriage was legal. But the party that won the general elections and formed the local government months later rejected that ruling. The issue bounced through various courts until it reached the Privy Council.

Four of the five judges eventually considered foreign laws could not be the basis to change Bermuda’s Constitution.

In its judgment, the Privy Council acknowledged that the historical background of marriage is “one of the stigmatization, denigration and victimization of gay people.” However, it said that “international instruments and other countries’ constitutions cannot be used to read into [Bermuda’s constitution] a right to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Regarding the case from the Cayman Islands, two women were denied a marriage license in 2018. Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush then went to court in the Cayman Grant Court in March 2019 which ruled in their favor considering that the denial violated the law. But a local appeals court overturned the decision months later. It argued the Cayman Constitution doesn’t allow for same-sex marriage.

The court nevertheless ordered the government to provide the couple with a legal status equivalent to marriage. As it didn’t happen, the couple and its legal team brought up the case to the Privy Council in London.

The ruling was unanimous in the Cayman Islands case. “This is a matter of choice for the legislative assembly rather than a right laid down in the constitution,” the board wrote.

I’m in shock,” Leonardo Raznovich, a local activist, said regarding the Cayman Islands’ case. “The decision is an affront to human dignity.” He said he plans to fight the Privy Council’s decision.

The region is largely conservative as anti-sodomy laws inherited from colonial times are still in force. Same-sex marriage is rarely considered a right.

Activists from the Cayman Islands and Bermuda expected the British court decision would have helped change public opinions in the region.

Same-sex marriage in the U.K. was legalized in England, Wales and Scotland in 2014, and in 2020 in Northern Ireland.

Cayman Islands Premier gave a speech last year during the gay pride parade, which was “historical, […] a great step in the right direction,” Raznovich said while still considering the premier’s actions weren’t necessarily representative of the island’s government.

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