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Confusion over civil unions


By Brent Fuller,

Tuesday 15th April, 2008   Posted: 15:24 CIT   (20:24 GMT)

Cayman Islands lawmakers and UK officials have both assured the public that neither same sex marriages nor any union similar to them will be legally allowed under the country’s constitutional reform plans.

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said during a press conference last week that one of the reasons to change the current constitution was to allow elected leaders more control over legislation.

“So that we don’t have to live in fear or concern about the input of EU directives or specific UK legislation relating to things like civil unions,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

UK Parliamentary Under–Secretary of State Meg Munn previously said Britain has no intention of forcing Cayman to accept civil unions or civil partnerships, even though she is personally in favour of allowing such arrangements to exist.  

However, despite claims from both sides on the issue, the phrases “civil partner” and “civil partnership” actually do appear in legislation that has recently been gazetted in the Cayman Islands.

The British Nationality (British Overseas Territories) Regulations, 2007 set out certain guidelines for how a person applies to be registered as a British Overseas Territories citizen. It essentially advises governments in overseas territories on how those matters should be handled in accordance with the British Nationality Act of 1981.

Schedule 2, section 10 of the regulations states: “The application shall contain information showing that the applicant is married to, or is the civil partner of a British Overseas Territories citizen…”

Section 12 states: “If the applicant does not possess the requisite qualifications in respect of residence and it is desired that the application should nevertheless be considered….on the grounds of marriage to, or civil partnership with, a person who is serving in Crown service under the government of a British overseas territory or other designated service, the application shall specify the nature of the service and contain information showing that recruitment for that service took place in a British Overseas Territory.”

The effects of the regulations and whether they would actually pave the way to allow the formation of civil partnerships in the Cayman Islands are unclear. Both political parties have voiced their intention to disallow such unions here.

However, some citizens groups have expressed concern about the regulations.

“As far as I can tell, (the British Nationality Regulations) applies to all overseas territories,” said People for Referendum group President Dennie Warren. “We don’t want the language in there. Once we put the language into one piece of legislation, it seeps into the legal system.”

Civil unions, or civil partnerships as they’re known in the UK, are legal arrangements similar to marriage which allow same sex couples to receive certain benefits such as health care coverage, tax breaks, pensions, etc. that would normally be available to heterosexual married couples.

The government intends to prohibit same sex marriages by amending the Cayman Islands Marriage Law to reflect that marriage here will be considered solely the union of one man and one woman.

However, it’s not known whether such an amendment would legally prohibit the formation of civil unions, or any other legal arrangement similar to marriage.

There has also been some confusion over whether government would attempt to ban same sex marriage in a bill of rights. Mr. McLaughlin said that would be handled under the Marriage Law, not in any human rights section of the constitution.

“One wouldn’t put that (language outlawing same sex marriage) in a bill of rights,” he said. “A bill of rights is about affording people rights, not ––– making prohibitions about various things.”

Precisely what language might be placed in the constitution regarding marriage isn’t certain. The first summary of constitutional proposals released by government said “the right to marriage between members of the opposite sex” would be considered.  

Compass reporter Alan Markoff contributed to this story.

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