Repeal of Caymans Anti-Gay Laws Strains Partnership with Britain
Caribbean: Religious outcry over imposed reform is a complex testimonial
to the territorys conservative culture and dependence on Mother England.
Los Angeles Times,
March 4, 2001
Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: 213-237-7679 or 213-237-5319
By Mark Fineman, Times Staff Writer
GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands There was nothing
subtle about the pink pamphlets stacked neatly beside the front door to the
Rev. Al Ebanks modern church in the capital of these idyllic and
conservative Caribbean islands.
Homosexuals, they claimed, quoting 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10, are as
"wicked" as thieves, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers and the
greedy, and they most certainly shall not "inherit the kingdom of
The issue behind the church tract, entitled "Sexual Sins" and
a separate, church-sponsored petition to Her Majestys Government in London
is a complex testimonial to the culture of these islands: self-contained,
God-fearing and traditionally steadfast for dependence on Britain through an
era of independence movements worldwide.
The British government, after nearly a decade of cajoling, unilaterally
repealed local laws against homosexuality here and in its other dependent
overseas territories of Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands,
effective Jan. 1.
Now, for the first time in more than a century, it is legal to engage in
homosexual acts here. And the response from church leaders and some of their
flock has been nothing short of a mini-Crusade.
Britain, which has the final say over local issues that affect foreign
policy, said it had to comply with the gay rights provisions of European human
rights declarations it has signed through the years.
Never mind that no one can remember the last time the islands enforced
their laws. For London and the islanders alike, the fundamental fact is that
they were on the books and that they are no more.
"If there is a law that legitimizes a lifestyle that is contrary to
the beliefs and principles of society as a whole, then you create a
problem," said Ebanks, the nondenominational president of the Cayman
Ministers Assn. and leader of the petition drive against the British decision.
"They are, in my opinion, removing a pillar of stability that has
maintained the ethical and moral values of our culture. And when that happens,
you weaken the fabric of a society."
For some, like Ebanks and other religious leaders, the issue has forced a
rethinking of their whole relationship with Mother England and its Foreign
Office, which issued a lengthy white paper last year describing the colonial
relationship as a "partnership."
"One of the most critical things is: What else lies in wait for us in
the future if we dont do what they want us to do in matters that are really
culturally sensitive?" Ebanks asked. "It all seems to render
partnership a moot point."
Even now, nary a soul advocates independence in this pristine territory,
which ranks among the worlds richest per capita and draws more than 1.2
million tourists a year 80% of them Americans.
"The benefits of dependence far outweigh the disadvantages,"
concluded Tourism Minister McKeeva Bush, the top vote-getter in Novembers
elections to the Caymanian legislative council, which governs all issues
except defense and international affairs.
"The British have told us that any time we want to go, it would take
six to nine months. But theyre not pushing us. And theres never been a
serious move on our parts toward moving away."
Negative examples that deter them from seeking independence, most
Caymanians agree, are all around them.
Neighboring Jamaica, which once governed the Caymans as a sub-colony, is
awash with guns, violence, murder and drugs. Its political parties are armed
to the teeth. Other former British colonies in the eastern Caribbean are
struggling with similar issues, as well as political and internal instability.
But on the Caymans, three islands with a land mass roughly the size of
Washington, D.C., political parties are banned, elections are folksy affairs,
and crime is rare. There are no hustlers on the beaches, no pickpockets on the
streets. Literacy is 98%, life expectancy more than 76 years, unemployment 5%
and the per-capita purchasing power more than $24,500 a year.
Religious and social leaders in this territory of some 35,000 citizens and
52 churches attribute much of that success to a deep-rooted moral
conservatism. And Britains lifting of the ban has resounded throughout
these islands far more than it has in the less conservative British Virgin
Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat, which is preoccupied with a volcano that has
consumed two-thirds of its land.
"A tremendous amount of the people were against this move by
Britain," Bush said. "But then, I would say theres probably an
equal amount saying, Look, what people do in private, thats their
The Rev. Nicholas Sykes, a British Anglican priest who has served 15 years
here and 20 in Jamaica, conceded that the petition drive is likely to fall
short of the Ministers Assn.s stated goal of 10,000 signatures.
"I think most people are just saying, Theyve done a number on
us. We dont like what Britain has done, but theres nothing we can do
about it. Why not just go with the times?
"But the answer to that is in the ethics of it," Sykes continued,
arguing that the new law, in effect, tells people that homosexual and
heterosexual acts are equal.
Sykes and other religious leaders fear that the next step will be mandatory
sex education in school that includes detailed descriptions of homosexuality
and, ultimately, the forced legalization of gay marriages.
"Its the thin edge of a wedge" capable of splintering the
Caymans bedrock institution families, Sykes insisted. He cited figures
that out-of-wedlock births in Britain have soared from 2% when homosexuality
was legalized there in 1967 to 20% today.
Both Ebanks and Sykes said they do not expect a sudden gay influx to the
islands, where the ministers organized a mass rally three years ago that
helped block a visit by a cruise ship sponsored by gay travel agencies an
event that put the Caymans on gay tourisms no-go list.
They also concurred that the petition drive, which London has agreed to
accept and consider, is equally unlikely to change Britains stance.
"Really, at the end of the day, were just David fighting
Goliath," Sykes concluded. "You cant do much with a slingshot and
stones. Nonetheless, youve got to try."