The content originally appeared on: The BVI Beacon
As more countries around the world continue to legalise same-sex marriage, the BVI Christian Council is doubling down on its opposition to the practice here in the Virgin Islands. Following a recent promise by Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley for a public referendum amid an ongoing court challenge seeking to overturn the VI’s same-sex-marriage ban, the group invited an advocate from the United Kingdom to share her perspective on the topic. Andrea Minichiello Williams — the CEO of the UK-based advocacy organisation Christian Concern — visited the territory this month and led public meetings in Road Town, Long Look, Cane Garden Bay and Virgin Gorda and spoke at BVI Seventh-day Adventist School by invitation, she said.
She also held a press conference on March 10 at Road Town Methodist Church, where she was welcomed by BVICC Vice President Rosemarie Flax.
During the session, Ms. Williams offered her views on how UK society has changed since same-sex marriage was legalised there in 2014, and she urged the VI to oppose legalisation here.
“It will not serve your territory well to redefine marriage or family,” she said. “That is something that, in a sense, is not up for grabs.”
Ms. Williams’ visit comes during an ongoing court case brought against the VI government by two women who strongly disagree with her views.
In 2021, claimants Kinisha Forbes and Kirsten Lettsome — who have been legally married under UK law since 2019 — sued the VI government, claiming that the registrar general improperly denied them a VI marriage licence because they’re both women. They’re asking the court to declare that their marriage is valid under VI law and that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, among other requests.
The case — the first challenge to the VI’s same-sex marriage ban — was scheduled to be heard last September in High Court, but it was delayed after last-minute legal manoeuvring by the BVICC found favour with Appeals Court Justice Gerard Farara.
On March 10, Ms. Williams described the legal proceedings as a “strategic litigation case” designed to put pressure on the judicial and legislative systems of the VI to bring same-sex marriage up for public debate.
Ms. Flax said Christian Concern’s legal branch, Christian Legal Centre, is providing pro bono legal assistance to the BVICC in the case.
She added that Attorney General Dawn Smith had agreed to allow the BVICC to join the case as an interested party.
“Truly, it would have been very sad if this case were to proceed with all the intervention, the interest shown by the Christian Council on behalf of the Christian community,” Ms. Flax said. “[Ms. Williams’] professional involvement and that of her companies means more to the BVI Christian Council than just her presence here in the BVI.”
The claimants have declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.
Same-sex marriage was legalised in England and Wales in 2014 following a much-debated bill passed by the UK Parliament the previous year. The practice was legalised in Scotland the same year.
Northern Ireland was the last in the UK to legalise it, in 2020, after the UK Parliament passed legislation while the Northern Irish Parliament was suspended due to a party stalemate.
Religious organisations have started to change their stances as well.
For instance, the national assembly of the Church of England, which previously prohibited same-sex weddings within the church, voted last month to let priests bless such marriages and civil partnerships, according to the Associated Press.
Pressure on OTs
The UK government — which has long pressured the VI and other overseas territories to legalise same-sex marriage — states in a fact sheet on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 that it “believes that we should not prevent couples from marrying unless there are very good reasons — and loving someone of the same sex is not one of them.”
The statement continues, “The government believes that opening up marriage to all couples demonstrates society’s respect for all individuals, regardless of their sexuality, making our society fairer and more inclusive for all its members. This change strengthens the vital institution of marriage and ensures that it remains an essential building block of modern society.”
On March 10, however, Ms. Williams argued that the UK has seen negative effects from “abandoning the fundamental notion of a marriage between a man and a woman, and children from within that construct.”
She took particular issue with what she described as an unequal protection of LGBT and religious rights.
“What people say to that in the United Kingdom will be that, ‘You’re not liberal; you’re not tolerant; you’re unkind; you want to take away other people’s rights; you’re not fit to be a social worker or teacher unless you promote and celebrate the new normal,’” she said. “‘You need to get with this new programme or you will be punished.’ This is our reality in the United Kingdom.”
After the VI same-sex marriage case was delayed last year, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley announced in December that the public would get to voice its opinion on the subject through a referendum.
Until then, he said, the government would be “vigorously defending our laws, which clearly provide that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
The referendum would be the first in the territory’s history, the premier said.
“This referendum will also consider the question of whether new legislation should be introduced to provide persons in a domestic partnership with certain legal rights, such as the ability to pass on one’s estate to their partner regardless of sex, in intestacy,” he said. “This approach takes into account our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights while protecting the sanctity of marriage.”
However, no date has yet been set for the referendum, and the House of Assembly was dissolved on March 10 ahead of the coming election.
On March 10, Ms. Williams urged residents to oppose a referendum, and she advised them to question election candidates about their stance on the plan.
“I think one thing that you need to be doing in the BVI in these weeks as you elect new candidates is actually ask them their position on this and ask them as to whether or not they’re going to bring a referendum forward or not,” she said.
She also opposed the action some countries have taken to legalise same-sex domestic partnerships in lieu of marriage, which offer certain legal rights to couples like estate rights. Such partnerships functionally become marriages, she said, claiming that they could foster support for the future legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Ms. Williams said she would return to the UK that week.