December 19, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Saba becomes first Caribbean island to legalize same-sex marriage
Saba, Glenn Holm, gay news, Washington Blade

Saba Tourist Bureau Director Glenn Holm (Photo courtesy of Glenn Holm)

The Dutch island of Saba earlier this month became the first jurisdiction in the Caribbean to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Xiomar Gonzales Cedeno Ruis and Israel Ruis Gonzales from Aruba and Venezuela respectively exchanged vows at the island’s courthouse on Dec. 4. A same-sex couple from Curaçao married in Saba on Tuesday.

The Netherlands, which has allowed gays and lesbians to marry since 2001, gave its Caribbean territories more time to implement the same-sex marriage law. Observers expect Bonaire and St. Eustatius, which were formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles that formally dissolved in 2010, will follow suit.

Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, which have greater autonomy from Amsterdam, do not allow gays and lesbians to legally marry. The three islands, along with Bonaire and St. Eustatius, must recognize same-sex marriages performed within the Netherlands.

Glenn Holm, the openly gay director of the Saba Tourist Bureau who worked with Cedeno and Ruis, told the Washington Blade he plans to promote “gay weddings on the highest point of the Dutch kingdom” while in the Netherlands next month.

“There are of course some people who are against it, but they will just have to get used to it,” he said, referring to Dutch euthanasia and abortion laws that will soon take effect on Saba, Bonaire and St. Eustatius. “It simply means that the choice is there should it be necessary, the same for same-sex unions. If it’s not your bag you don’t have to let it concern you. Live and let live, love and be allowed to love whosoever you choose to.”

Tanja Ineke, president of COC Netherlands, a Dutch LGBT advocacy organization, applauded those who supported same-sex marriage efforts on the island.

“This great news deserves our warm congratulations; first of all for the married couple and to the local LHBT-community. But also to the local authorities on Saba who have been cooperative in implementing the marriage law,” she told the Blade. “Together with the LGBT-movement on the Dutch Antilles, COC has worked hard to have the marriage law implemented on Saba, Bonaire and St Eustatius as soon as possible, and we are very happy with this first result.”

Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to consider the issue next year as French lawmakers debate a same-sex marriage bill. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has spoken out in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians, but LGBT people still face systematic discrimination and even violence throughout the region.

Jamaica and several other English-speaking Caribbean countries still have colonial-era sodomy laws on the books that criminalize same-sex sexual acts. The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb rampant anti-LGBT violence in the country.

Puerto Rican advocates have repeatedly criticized outgoing Gov. Luís Fortuño and his administration for what they contend was an unwillingness to speak out against anti-LGBT violence in the American commonwealth in the wake of gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado’s brutal 2009 murder. The Puerto Rico Senate late last year approved a proposal that would have eliminated LGBT-specific protections from the island’s hate crimes law.

A 2011 Justice Department report that blasted the Puerto Rico Police Department cited an inadequate response to hate crimes as among its numerous deficiencies.

Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland in February after he received death threats following local media reports about his marriage to a Canadian man, described same-sex marriage in Saba as a “toehold where we can advance LGBT human rights in the Caribbean.”

The Supreme Court of Jurisdicture of Belize in May is expected to hear a case challenging the country’s sodomy laws. AIDS-Free World has also challenged laws in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago that prohibit gay people and those with disabilities from entering the country.

A Trinidadian newspaper on Dec. 18 reported Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar wrote in a private letter to the head of an international LGBT advocacy group in the United Kingdom that she would support a ban anti-LGBT discrimination.

“As a human rights activist, I think it’s excellent because it’s a way to get up the laws and two it provides evidence for the courts to say there is absolutely no negative impact within this entire region of these rights being recognized for LGBT,” Tomlinson told the Blade, referring specifically to Saba. “Its evidence that even within the Caribbean you have forward-thinking legislators who are willing to push the envelope and take the political risks that are necessary to advance human rights of all citizens.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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