THE BOTTOM, Saba, Wednesday December 19, 2012 – The diminutive Dutch Caribbean island of Saba has become a haven for gay couples and seen its popularity soar since legislators legalized same-sex marriages in what was already considered a gay-friendly destination.
On December 4, Xiomar Alexander Gonzalez and Israel Ernesto Ruiz exchanged vows in a civil ceremony at the island's courthouse, marking the first ceremony of its kind in the region and reportedly triggering a flood of enquiries from gay couples in other Dutch Caribbean islands.
As part of the Netherlands, which in 2001 became the first country to approve same-sex marriages, the islands of Saba, Bonaire and St Eustatius are obliged to recognize such unions. While Bonaire and St Eustatius have stopped short of legalizing these marriages, Saba welcomed the move.
"We've seen it as a human rights issue," said openly gay Saba council member Carl Buncamper. "It is important to give the partners equal rights when it comes to inheritance and other benefits."
Saba's trailblazing stance has been applauded by gay couples who have indicated that gays frequently face taunts, threats and even death elsewhere in the Caribbean, with many countries in the region enforcing colonial era buggery laws.
Bonaire and St Eustatius are expected to follow Saba’s lead, but the Netherlands is giving those islands more time in the face of local opposition. Their governments have been urged to help communities get used to the idea of gay marriage in the meantime.
St Maarten, Curacao and Aruba are also obliged to recognize same-sex marriages, but don't have to legalize them because they have a more autonomous relationship with the Netherlands.
Aruba has reportedly struggled to recognize same-sex marriages. In 2005, the island's Superior Court ordered the government to register the union of two women who complained that their 2001 marriage in the Netherlands wasn't recognized locally.
Meanwhile, the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe are expected to debate the issue soon, as France prepares to vote early next year on whether to legalize same-sex marriages. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)