Same-sex marriage, self-determination, and the potential restructuring of the United Kingdom’s relationship with its overseas territories were among the topics discussed during a debate last Thursday in the UK House of Lords. The discussion followed a similar debate in the House of Commons a week earlier.
“While each territory is unique in its relationship with the UK, the one thing that underpins that relationship is that all British OTs enjoy the right to self-determination,” Lord Mark Lancaster of Kimbolton said last Thursday. “The fact that they maintain a constitutional link with the UK is ultimately their choice. I am sure noble lords will join me in reaffirming our commitment to defending that principle.”
Mr. Lancaster went on to say that the UK’s relationship with each OT requires both sensitivity and agility to “support the unique circumstances, constitutions, challenges and opportunities of each territory.”
He also questioned why the UK’s relationship with its OTs continues to be “held” by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office since only four of the OTs are eligible for development assistance.
“While the FCDO may manage the relationship, it holds few if any of the levers of power to support OTs when required,” he said. “While I appreciate that the foreign secretary and prime minister have now written to all government departments reminding them of their responsibilities to the OTs, that does not solve the structural problem that we have in the government.”
Later in the discussion, Lord Zac Goldsmith, the minister for OTs, stated that the FCDO does not “control the levers of delivery” and that other departments must fulfil their responsibilities to the OTs.
“We must do more,” he said. “I know the prime minister shares this view: He has written to all departments, directing them to fulfil their responsibilities and, crucially, to nominate a dedicated overseas territories minister who will liaise with me.”
Mr. Lancaster also spoke about six OT military regiments that are charged with delivering crucial resources like food, water, and emergency accommodations in crisis situations. He asked that the UK Ministry of Defence encourage the Virgin Islands to “join the club” in establishing a regiment as well.
Lord Michael Cashman called attention to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Overseas Territories) Bill that he introduced in July 2022. The bill sought to enable same-sex marriage in the VI and the five other OTs that currently don’t permit same-sex couples to marry, he said.
“This House must take a lead in respect of those overseas territories that will not address the outrage of marriage inequality themselves,” he added. “We can and should protect same-sex couples from the abuse of discrimination and legislate the grant them the right to marry.”
At the time of its introduction, the bill sparked controversy in this territory, but the Governor’s Office told the Beacon that it was unlikely go far.
“The private member’s bill from Lord Cashman is not a government bill,” the office stated at the time. “Backbench peers in the UK often bring forward bills, and it is unlikely to be debated or make any progress.”
With the VI government facing a lawsuit seeking to legalise same-sex marriage, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley announced in December that the government will host the territory’s first-ever referendum on the matter.