Legal moves to allow same sex marriages in all British Oversea Territories have been introduced in the House of Lords.
The Private Members’ Bill has been created by Lord Cashman and Professor Paul Johnson, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Leeds.
The Bill extends to six Overseas Territories: Anguilla; Bermuda; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Montserrat; and Turks and Caicos Islands – where same sex marriage is currently illegal.
If passed, the Bill would make same sex marriage lawful in the six Overseas Territories and empower local governors – who are appointed by Her Majesty The Queen – to make changes to the law that are necessary to allow weddings of same sex couples to take place.
Provisions in the Bill would introduce equal civil marriage for same sex and different sex couples, and protect individuals and religious organisations from being compelled to conduct religious same sex marriages.
Basic human rights
Professor Johnson said: “The UK and the Overseas Territories, along with the Crown Dependencies, form one undivided Realm.
“It is wrong, therefore, that some same sex couples, simply because of where they live, are denied the basic human right to marry that is enjoyed by others.
“The UK Parliament should legislate to ensure that all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, are treated equally.”
The Bill had its First Reading on 6 July 2022 and now awaits a date to be scheduled for its next stage in the House of Lords.
Lord Cashman, co-founder of LGBTQ charity Stonewall, said: “This Bill has one single purpose, and that is to bring about equality.
“Currently, same sex couples can marry in the UK but are prohibited from marrying in six British Overseas Territories.
“This is wrong, and the UK Parliament can and should act to end this obvious inequity. I believe this Bill has wide support among all those who favour equality over discrimination and are committed to upholding fundamental human rights.”
Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall said: “The freedom to be who we are, to love who we love, and to marry if we want to, is a fundamental human right.
“Marriage equality is something we are rightly proud of here in the UK, but we cannot say that we truly have achieved equality when LGBTQ+ citizens in the British Overseas Territories are left out in the cold.
“This Bill is an opportunity to right that wrong, and we hope all parliamentarians will support it.”
Same sex marriage is lawful in seven Overseas Territories: the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; the Pitcairn Islands; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
In the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, provision is made for marriage (including the marriage of same sex couples) between two people where, inter alia, one of the proposed parties to the marriage is a member of Her Majesty’s armed forces.
Same sex marriage is currently not lawful in six Overseas Territories: Anguilla; Bermuda; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Montserrat; and Turks and Caicos Islands.
Purpose of the Lord Cashman’s Bill
The purpose of the Bill is to make same sex marriage lawful in the six Overseas Territories where it is currently unlawful: Anguilla; Bermuda; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Montserrat; and Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Bill empowers the Governor of each Territory to make changes to the law in the Territory to recognize the lawfulness of same sex marriage and allow for the solemnization of marriage of same sex couples.
The Bill also protects individuals and religious organisations that do not wish to conduct or participate in a religious marriage on the ground that it is a marriage of a same sex couple.
Legislating for the Overseas Territories
There is no limit to the power of Parliament to enact primary legislation for any of the Overseas Territories.
As the UK Government has recognized, it “has responsibilities towards the people of the Territories” and, whilst it “acknowledges the sensitivity of this area of work”, it “believes that those living in the Territories have a right to expect the same high standards of governance as in the UK, including in the areas of human rights...” (Cm 8374, 2012, p. 9).
This requires the UK to “promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the people of the Territories, to ensure their just treatment and their protection against abuses...” (Cm 8374, 2012, p. 13).
Therefore, by legislating to make same sex marriage lawful in the six Overseas Territories, Parliament would be ensuring that same sex couples receive equal treatment and are protected against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Recent legal developments in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council – the final court of appeal for the British Overseas Territories – recently ruled that Bermuda law, which prohibits same sex couples from marrying, is constitutional. The Privy Council also recently ruled, in respect of a case brought by Ms Chantelle Day and Ms Vickie Bodden Bush who wish to marry, that there is no right to same sex marriage under the Cayman Islands’ Constitution.