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Topics In the News
Marriage Equality Comes to the Caribbean
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/15/12
Last updated on: 12/15/12
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Marriage equality has finally come to the Caribbean. Some areas of the Caribbean, especially the nations that are members of the British Commonwealth, such as Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, are notoriously and virulently homophobic, but that is not true of the entire region, pockets of which are welcoming and accepting of their glbtq residents and visitors. One of these pockets is the small Caribbean island of Saba, where on December 4, 2012, a male couple were joined in matrimony.

As Linda Rapp observes in her glbtq entry on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the Dutch islands are more hospitable to gay and lesbian visitors and residents than other parts of the Caribbean. She noted that "Tiny Saba (only five square miles in area) has a gay tourism director and is a popular winter destination for gay men. The scene there is welcoming but often described with terms like 'low-key.'"

A December 14, 2012 Associated Press story in the Washington Post reports that on Dec. 4, officials married Xiomar Alexander Gonzalez and Israel Ernesto Ruiz in a civil ceremony at the island's courthouse.

The two men live together in Aruba and wanted to make their union official. They dressed in all white to celebrate the occasion. Gonzalez said people in Saba were very welcoming.

Following news of the wedding, the popularity of Saba among gay couples has soared. The news sparked a frenzy of calls from gay couples in other Dutch Caribbean islands seeking to marry, said Julietta Woods with Saba's Civil Registry office. "People keep calling me every second," she said.

Saba has a land area of only 5 square miles and a population of about 2,000 residents, though it attracts about 25,000 tourists per year, lured there by its beautiful scenery, exceptional scuba diving, and deep-sea fishing. It is also known for its school of medicine.

As part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Dutch Caribbean islands are obligated to recognize same-sex marriages, but Saba is the first of the islands to do so enthusiastically and, indeed, to authorize the performance of same-sex marriage itself.

"We've seen it as a human rights issue," said Saba council member Carl Buncamper, who is openly gay. "It is important to give the partners equal rights when it comes to inheritance and other benefits."

Dozens of gay couples cheered Saba's unprecedented step, noting that gays often face taunts, threats, and even death elsewhere in the Caribbean, with many islands enforcing sodomy laws introduced in colonial times.

The Dutch islands of Bonaire and St. Eustatius are expected to authorize same-sex marriage ceremonies soon.

The other Dutch Caribbean islands of St. Maarten, Curacao, and Aruba are obligated to recognize same-sex marriages but do not have to perform them because they have a more autonomous relationship with the Netherlands.

In 2005, two women in Aruba sued to have their 2001 marriage in the Netherlands recognized locally. They won their suit, but the island has resisted performing same-sex marriages. That could change, however, said Desiree Croes, Aruba's first openly gay Parliament member. Croes had planned to marry her partner in Saba, but they ended up marrying on December 12, 2012 in the Netherlands.

The nearby French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to debate the issue as France prepares to vote early next year on whether to legalize same-sex marriages.

The video below, from a realty agency, offers an introduction to the charms of Saba.

The video below, narrated mostly in Dutch, offers some history as well as a scenic tour of the island.

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