Boris Johnson didn’t recognise LGBT+ rights in British territories – but a court case has changed all of that

Boris Johnson didn’t recognise LGBT+ rights in British territories – but a court case has changed all of that

Boris Johnson didn’t recognise LGBT+ rights in British territories – but a court case has changed all of that

When does a pattern of behaviour end up being a policy? Something that intimately defines a person’s beliefs? The victory of Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush establishing their right to marry one another in the Cayman Islands reveals much about Boris Johnson, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office he presided over, and the culture he nurtured there.

The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory. The UK is accountable for their good government and, ultimately, they are governed from the FCO’s HQ in King Charles Street. The foreign secretary is responsible for them.

When Boris Johnson was the foreign secretary the Cayman Islands governor and the Foreign Office were petitioned by Chantelle and Vickie, pleading to be given the right to have their relationship recognised by the island’s laws. Despite Caymanians being UK citizens, neither equal marriage nor civil partnerships were allowed. The emotional impact of that denial is self-evident, but it also means that same-sex couples are deprived of all the benefits that come with the state recognising relationships.


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Chantelle, a born-and-bred Caymanian, was desperate to marry Vickie in the Cayman Islands. Vickie has her own extensive links with the islands but is not Caymanian. They met in Cayman and it is where they see their future together with their daughter. Before they took the brave move of seeking a marriage license which they knew would be rejected, they literally begged the governor and the FCO to make marriage or civil partnerships available in Cayman. They made this request repeatedly.

They pointed out that, whilst being able to be married was all that they could wish for, they would be prepared to accept a civil partnership. They also reminded the powers that be both in Cayman and London that, as a British Overseas Territory, the European Convention on Human Rights is extended to the Cayman Islands and that Convention requires legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

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39/50 26 February 2019

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40/50 25 February 2019

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44/50 21 February 2019

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and the party’s Shadow Secretary of State for Departing the European Union Keir Starmer leave a meeting with European Union Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

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45/50 20 February 2019

Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, (middle row, left to right) Angela Smith, Luciana Berger and Ann Coffey, (front row, left to right) Sarah Woollaston, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Joan Ryan, following a press conference for the Independent Group where the three Conservative MPs, Woollaston, Allen and Soubry, announced their resignation from the party

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46/50 19 February 2019

A full moon sets near Whitley Bay, North Tyneside as the sun begins to rise, ahead of the super snow moon on Tuesday evening

PA

47/50 18 February 2019

MP Chuka Umunna speaks during the announcement of his resignation, along with a group of six other Labour MPs, including, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Ann Coffey and Gavin Shuker and who will be known as the Independent Group

PA

48/50 17 February 2019

Climate change activists block the road as part of an Extinction Rebellion protest outside a London Fashion Week event at Tate Britain in London, calling on the fashion industry to use its influence to help to create a sustainable world.

PA


49/50 16 February 2019

Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest over BP and Iraq at the British Museum in London, Britain

Reuters

50/50 15 February 2019

Schoolchildren take part in a student climate march in Parliament Square in London. Thousands of UK pupils from schools, colleges and universities will walk out for a nationwide climate change strike. Students in 60 cities from the West Country to Scotland are protesting, urging the government to declare a climate emergency and take action over the problem. They are keen that the national curriculum is reformed and the environmental crisis is communicated to the public. Similar strikes have taken place in Australia and in European countries such as Belgium and Sweden

Getty

Their pleas were rejected, and even though the human rights law relating to civil partnerships is clear, they were told that if they wanted recognition of their relationship they would have to establish that right in a court of law. Chantelle and Vickie pointed out that, should they be forced to go to court, they would also argue for their right to marry and took the authorities through the Caymanian legal framework which, when read consistently with common law human rights guarantees, establishes a right to marry.

Litigation was the last thing they wanted to do. They are in love. They were establishing their family life with their daughter. They were settling back into life in the Cayman Islands. They did not want to be dragged through the courts to prove their right to have their love for one another recognised in law.

The Foreign Office had made its views clear. Their route was litigation or they got nothing. This policy came from the top. It’s impossible to imagine what it must have felt like to apply for a marriage license and to have that license denied, and then to have to sit through days and days of court hearings where details of your private life are picked over as you seek to establish your right to love. Why were Chantelle and Vickie and their families subjected to such levels of distress and anxiety?

Boris Johnson could have made all that heart ache vanish at the stroke of a pen. He could have issued an Order in Council extending to all British Overseas Territories requiring that all UK citizens have the right to marriage and/or civil partnerships. Legislating by way of Order in Council is standard practice in relation to the Overseas Territories. New Labour’s FCO got rid of the death penalty and laws criminalising homosexuality in this way. Johnson’s Foreign Office felt able to regulate the finance industry in the Cayman Islands by way of Order in Council, however, he was unwilling to extend equality to LGBT+ people via the same route.

The Cayman Islands weren’t Johnson’s only brush with LGBT+ rights in British Overseas Territories. Similar issues arose in Bermuda in 2018 where, again, Johnson sided against LGBT+ equality. The facts were slightly different but, as with Cayman, it was in his gift to put matters beyond doubt and affirm that marriage was extended to all, regardless of sexual orientation, in Bermuda. He chose not to and left it to vulnerable LGBT+ people to find ways of having their right to equality recognised through the courts.

One instance of denying LGBT+ people marriage rights might be seen as a misfortune, two suggests that it was Boris Johnson’s policy not to prioritise LGBT+ equality. When push came to shove in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, the equal rights of LGBT+ people were just one of many competing interests.

By abdicating responsibility and leaving it to the courts to decide, Johnson’s FCO was not acting in a neutral capacity. Choosing not to uphold the equal rights of LGBT+ Bermudans and Caymanians sent a clear message. LGBT+ equality is not Johnson’s priority.

What a stark contrast with David Cameron. Cameron reached out to the LGBT+ community. It turned out that even if he was not thanked by the Conservative rank and file for securing equal marriage, he was rewarded by the electorate. But his motives for adopting same sex marriage as one of his flagship policies were because he knew it was the right thing to do and he was prepared to accept the consequences. Cameron worked with all those concerned, and he did what he could to reassure them. The transition to equal marriage, five years ago this weekend, was therefore seamless.

Johnson on the other hand exposed two women, who only wanted to be married, to the burden of litigation and all the grief that comes with that. We are left with the chief justice’s inspiring words recognising the indignity of denying people the right to marry. Chantelle and Vickie join the pantheon of those extraordinary people who’ve cemented rights in law through the courts. And Johnson as foreign secretary? What’s his legacy?   

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