Friday, October 11

Not the Gayman Islands - The Caymans aren't known for the hospitality to gay tourists. Notably, in 1998 the tourism minister here refused landing rights to one of those all-gay cruises. The HRC got involved when it protested the action to the British Ambassador to Washington. This must have made Tony Blair's government in London mighty uneasy, since the Caymans are crown colonies, also called dependent territories, of the U.K. (Belize ended up hosting the poor passengers of the ghost ship.) So when Labour presented its so-called White Paper plan in 1999 to make the inhabitants of the crown colonies citizens, it set a requirement that the local governments bring their laws on environmental protection, financial regulation and human rights up to European standards. That included the repeal of sodomy laws.

The Caymanians balked at this imposition. They refused to repeal the law themselves, so in December 2000 the Queen's privy council did it for them. The council is a sort of supreme court / executive office under the British constitutional system, and it published the Caribbean Territories Criminal Laws (2000) Order, decriminalized sexual activity between consenting adults in private. The order applied to Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos. I gather the way this works is somewhat like the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a state law. It may still be on the books but enforcement is illegal. (Too bad there isn't a privy council with power over Virginia laws. Britain, meanwhile, is so progressive on this issue that their "state department" actually issues country-specific tips for gay and lesbian travellers.)

Unsurprisingly, the council's action pissed off the Caymanians. A very seriously religious people, Jamie and I saw more 7th Day Adventist and Jehovah's Witnesses churches on the island than we've seen all year in the DC metro area. At last report (late Winter 2001) they were drawing up a protest petition and the Brits had agreed to listen to it. According to those reports, Britain was not expected to reverse its stance -- a position that "was made after long deliberation." The news archive trail then grows cold, although it seems no substantive action was taken on the petition.

For what it's worth, the Caymanians finally became British on May 21, 2002 (which was the point of the forced repeal in the first place). Among other things, this status allows them to carry a British passport and apparently entitles them to live or work in the UK and the rest of the EU and to visit the US without a visa. There are no more "colonies," just UK Overseas Territories. Perhaps the belated delivery of that promised reward may have helped them put bad feelings over the repeal behind them somewhat.