SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Activists supporting same-sex marriage in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda received a heavy blow Monday following a ruling by a top appeals court in London.
The United Kingdom's Privy Council, which serves as the final court of appeals for several islands in the Caribbean, sided with the government of Bermuda, which had fought a local Supreme Court's decision to allow gay marriage.
The Privy Council also ruled that gays don't have the right to marry in the Cayman Islands based on its Constitution.
“I’m in shock,” Leonardo Raznovich, a local activist, told The Associated Press. “The decision is an affront to human dignity.”
Raznovich said he plans to fight the Privy Council’s decision.
Caribbean activists had hoped for a favorable ruling to help sway public opinion in a largely conservative region where colonial anti-sodomy laws remain on the books and same-sex marriage is rarely considered a right.
“It’s taken us some time to get here. ... We’ve had to jump over a few hurdles. It would definitely act as a beacon of hope for the entire region," said Billie Bryan, founder and president of Colours Cayman, a nonprofit advocacy group for the LGBTQ community.
“The Privy Council has done nothing more, by its decision, than reassert the oppressive political environment of yesteryear.”
One of five judges in the Bermuda case dissented. In its judgement, the Privy Council acknowledged that the historical background of marriage is "one of the stigmatization, denigration and victimization of gay people, and that the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples may create among gay people a sense of exclusion and stigma."
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.”
Meanwhile, the ruling was unanimous in the Cayman Islands' case, with judges writing that “the effect of the board’s interpretation is that this is a matter of choice for the legislative assembly rather than a right laid down in the constitution.”
The Cayman Islands' case reached the Privy Council after two women — Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush — were denied a marriage license in 2018. The couple, who recently adopted a daughter, went to court, and in March 2019, the Cayman Grand Court ruled in their favor after stating that the denial violated the law. Months later, a local appeals court overturned the decision, stating that the Cayman Constitution doesn't allow for same-sex marriage. However, it ordered the government to provide the women with a legal status equivalent to marriage.
That didn’t happen, Raznovich said.
As a result, the legal team sought a ruling from the Privy Council in London.
The case has riled some in the Cayman Islands, where several legislators accused of being homophobic sought to have Raznovich deported several years ago given his involvement in the case.
While the British territory of nearly 70,000 people is considered to be socially conservative, Raznovich noted that the premier gave a speech last year during the gay pride parade.
“(It) was historical,” he said. “That has to be highlighted as a great step in the right direction.”
However, he and Bryan noted that much work remains to be done, and that the premier’s actions weren't necessarily representative of the island’s government.
“I think people are more receptive to what we’re trying to achieve, but there’s still a lot of stigma,” Bryan said.
Meanwhile, the case in Bermuda reached the Privy Council as a result of the government fighting local court rulings that upheld the legalization of same-sex marriages.
In May 2017, the island’s Supreme Court ruled that they were legal, but the party that won the general elections months later rejected that ruling and allowed only domestic partnerships. One senator said during the debate at the time: “Society largely does not support same-sex marriage nor is it prepared to accept it at this time.”
The issue bounced through various courts until it reached the Privy Council.