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The British Government has said ‘no’ to forcing its overseas territories (OTs), including those in the Caribbean, to legalize same-sex marriage. It has also rejected a recommendation that United Kingdom (UK) citizens be allowed to vote and hold elected office in those territories.
Responding to recommendations made by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) of the House of Commons in February this year, the Government said those decisions should be made by the Overseas Territories (OTs), and declined to give any timelines for the changes the FAC had asked for.
In its report, entitled ‘Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the Relationship’, the FAC gave nine recommendations, including that the Government should initiate a consultation with the elected Governments of the OTs and work with them to agree a plan to ensure that there is a pathway for all resident UK and British Overseas Territory citizens to be able to vote and hold elected office. It also wanted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to lay out a timetable for that consultation process and set a deadline for phasing out discriminatory elements of belongership, or its territory-specific equivalents.
However, the Government said that while it understands the committee’s concerns and continues to impress upon OT Governments the importance of allowing people who have made their permanent home in the territories the ability to vote and engage fully in the community, it also recognizes the desire of island communities to maintain their cohesion, hence the need for a reasonable qualifying process, and also understands the OTs’ concerns, sensitivities and historical background on this issue.
“In the spirit of a relationship based upon partnership, we will continue to support and encourage consistent and open political engagement on belongership and its territory-specific equivalents, whilst respecting the fact that immigration decisions are primarily a matter for OT Governments,” the Government said in its official response to the FCA.
A similar stance was taken on the issue of same-sex marriage.
The FAC had asked the Government to set a date by which it expects all OTs to have legalized same-sex marriage, and if that deadline is not met, the Government should intervene through legislation or an Order in Council.
The Government said it remains committed to equal rights, including LGBT rights, but rejected that recommendation.
“The British Overseas Territories are separate, largely self-governing jurisdictions with their own democratically-elected representatives. Our relationship with the Overseas Territories is based on partnership and therefore as policy on marriage law is an area of devolved responsibility it should be for the territories to decide and legislate on,” it said.
It noted that nine OTs have legal recognition and protection for same-sex relationships.
A tenth territory, the Cayman Islands, is in the midst of a same-sex marriage rights battle. Last month, after Chief Justice Anthony Smellie handed down a ruling giving same-sex couples the right to marry in the British Overseas Territory, the territory’s Government filed an appeal and was granted a stay in the decision until August when its appeal will be heard.
“We believe that the strongest, safest and most prosperous societies are those in which all citizens can live freely without fear of discrimination, and where all citizens, including LGBT people, can play a full and active part in society,” the UK Government. However, it added, the justice mechanisms and processes in the territories “should be allowed the space to address these matters”.
“We are working to encourage those Territories that have not put in place arrangements to recognize and protect same-sex relationships, to do so, and continue to engage with all the Overseas Territories to ensure that their legislation is compliant with their international human rights obligations,” the UK Government said, adding that it has “no plans to introduce an Order-in-Council on this issue”.