My partner Vickie and I have been in a same-sex relationship since 2012 and have been engaged since last September. Normally, newly engaged couples are elated and jump into “wedding planning mode”. However, when we considered the next steps in our own relationship, we had to put our excitement on hold because a huge obstacle stood before us.
I am from the Cayman Islands – which is a British Overseas Territory – and I’m the daughter of a Caymanian mother and a British father. Vickie is also British. Although I am a British citizen, my relationship simply doesn’t exist in the eyes of the Cayman Islands government as my home country bans any form of legal union between same-sex couples.
Even more outrageous is that the Cayman Islands also refuses to recognise overseas marriages or civil unions between same-sex couples where one of the individuals, like me, is Caymanian, whereas foreign same-sex couples who marry abroad and live in Cayman enjoy legal recognition of their union.
What does this mean for us? It means that we stumbled right out of the blocks on our wedding planning as our ultimate wish was to return to the Cayman Islands to settle, surrounded by our friends and family who fully support us. This left us with two possible scenarios: either get married in the UK and return to Cayman to challenge the Cayman Islands government on recognising our marriage; or fight for the right to marry in Cayman at the outset, and fully enjoy our wedding day when it arrives.
The discriminatory policies openly set by the Cayman Islands government means that I, like other LGBT+ citizens of the Cayman Islands, am a second-class citizen in my own country, forced to remain in self-exile overseas in order to enjoy equal rights and to be a part of a protected family unit.
In Europe, same-sex couples are, as a matter of existing law, required to be provided with a legal framework to register our relationships and to acquire most or all of the rights of married different-sex couples because of a court case known as Oliari and Others v. Italy (ECHR, 21 July 2015). The lack of such a framework in the Cayman Islands is a clear and unequivocal breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is binding on the Cayman Islands government. The Cayman Islands government has acknowledged this breach.
We have pleaded with the Cayman government to act and to say “I do” to equal marriage. But it continues to ignore its own constitution. The British government won’t help either – even though it could mandate equal rights, like it did in 2001 when it decriminalised homosexuality in all of its overseas territories.
One has to question why the UK feels that British citizens of overseas territories shouldn’t have the same access and rights as British citizens in England, Wales and Scotland. Its silence and disregard for international human rights law is deafening.
The truly frustrating point in all of this is the fact that this breach is not in dispute. Yet neither the Cayman Islands government nor the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office will address it, and both will require Vickie and me to shoulder the burden of their responsibilities by forcing us to litigate.
This left us no choice but to file for a special marriage license, which we did last week in the Cayman Islands and which was rejected on Monday. We have now instructed our legal team to commence legal proceedings in the Cayman Islands courts to challenge the Cayman Islands government on equal marriage. This will be a costly endeavour and we have set up a GoFundMe petition in order to at least partially fund it.
With neither governments willing to step up, we have taken on the task and are confident that we can win our case and set an example for all of the UK’s overseas territories, so that no more British citizens need to go to court to marry the person they love.