Europe ruling may boost LGBTI equality in Caribbean

Jamaican attorney and activist Maurice Tomlinson says yesterday’s court ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, could lead to positive change in the Caribbean.

European Court brings relationship equality to the Caribbean British Overseas Territories?

British Overseas Territories (Map courtesy of FT.com)
British Overseas Territories (Map courtesy of FT.com)

On July 21, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against Italy’s ban on civil unions for gays and lesbians.

In a far-reaching decision, the Court found that relationship equality is a human right under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Although this decision is specific to Italy, it is very persuasive precedent for the other 46 members of the Council of Europe and their dependencies. Britain is bound by the decision of this court and so are the British Overseas Territories (BOT).

So, it appears that The Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Monserrat, and The Turks and Caicos may now ALL be required to provide at least civil unions for lesbians and gays, or be in breach of the ECHR.

While these territories are in charge of their domestic laws, Britain is responsible, and liable, for their international obligations and affairs. Therefore, in 2000, Britain had to order that homosexual acts in these islands be expressly decriminalised under the Caribbean Territories (Criminal Law) Order, of the same year. This was done in order to comply with another ECHR ruling, which found that anti-sodomy laws violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

This recent decision of the ECHR creates an interesting legal question, because some of the BOTs have deliberately tried to ignore constitutional protections for LGBTI people. For example, Cayman was heavily criticized by British MPs when their 2009 Constitution specifically defined marriage as only heterosexual and excluded sexual orientation as a ground for non-discrimination.  These provisions were included in response to heavy lobbying by fundamentalist Christians.

Jamaicans are very influential in Cayman, which was once administered by Jamaica. Our evangelicals have maintained a strong presence on the island and have supported the territory’s anti-gay movement.  It is therefore not surprising that Cayman’s very conservative constitution closely mirrors our own and provides no explicit recognition of LGBTI human rights, including the right to private family life.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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