Statement by Premier and Minister of Finance
Dr. the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley
19th December, 2022
Referendum on Same Sex Marriage
Greetings and God’s blessings upon the people of the Virgin Islands.
I come to you with an important announcement. As you may be aware, a case is currently before the High Court, which could potentially impact the social and religious fabric of our society. A same sex couple, both Virgin Islanders, were married abroad, and have mounted a legal challenge to have their union legally recognized here in the Virgin Islands. If they were to be successful, section 13(1)(c) of the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, which provides that marriage is void unless the parties are respectively male and female, would be declared unconstitutional and, therefore, be null and void. As a result, same-sex marriage would become legal in the Virgin Islands.
The Constitution provides that “every man and every woman of marriageable age has the right to marry and found a family in accordance with laws enacted by the legislature”.
The Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act is a law enacted by the democratically elected legislature of the Virgin Islands.
In response to this legal challenge, the Virgin Islands Government who is the Respondent in this case, through counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers, is vigourously defending our laws which clearly provide that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Importantly also, we are defending the ability of the democratically elected legislature of the Virgin Islands to make legislation on this issue.
We believe very firmly that such weighty matters of social and religious significance must not be decided in the courts or elsewhere.
It is our belief that the people of the Virgin Islands must speak clearly and loudly on their views on marriage, and that legislators should be obligated to comply with their wishes. This is the essence of democracy.
Therefore, in a special meeting of the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands held on Friday 16th December, 2022 Cabinet decided to refer the matter of same-sex marriage to a referendum, so that the electorate can consider and decide on the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legal.
This will be the first referendum in the history of the Virgin Islands. This referendum will give all eligible persons, the opportunity to defend what they believe to be socially and morally right.
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. This approach takes into account our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights while protecting the sanctity of marriage.
It is important to note that as a part of the process, a resolution must be prepared and then considered and voted on in a sitting of the House of Assembly. Once successful, the Governor, in consultation with myself, will affix the date of the referendum. This referendum will be preceded by a portion of time dedicated to educating the population on the subject.
It is important to note that we are not the only Overseas Territory government to face a legal challenge on the matter of same-sex marriage. Both the Cayman Islands and Bermuda also had similar cases very recently.
More will be said on this matter in the very near future.
Let us pray for wisdom and divine guidance as we consider the future of what we want for our beloved Virgin Islands. Have a safe and enjoyable Christmas.