Also see: Caribbean Anti Violence Project
July 22, 2004
Community leaders talk about legalizing same-sex marriage as way of boosting tourism in U.S. Virgin Islands
by Mat Probasco, Associated Press & Charlotte Amalie, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP)
Community and business leaders are discussing legalizing same-sex marriage as a way of boosting tourism in St. Croix, but the U.S. Virgin Islands government is not likely to approve such a measure if it were proposed.
Same-sex marriage has the potential to attract thousands of visitors, offsetting a tourism downturn since the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2002 pullout of cruise ships that left because of low customer demand and rising crime on the island, community leaders said Wednesday at a meeting of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce.
"Imagine what would happen here if we could tap into an almost untouched market, a market with huge expendable income, a market seeking a place to go to get married," said Shaun Pennington, publisher of the Virgin Islands Source online newspaper.
Islanders should cast aside social and religious prejudices and embrace the gay market out of economic necessity, Pennington said.
"Weddings in the Virgin Islands are a major business," said Jim Hoffman, a spokesman for the St. Croix Business Guild, a group of about 12 businesses trying to promote the island as the "Gay Virgin."
Several hotels and charter boat companies in St. Croix offer commitment ceremonies – non-legally binding weddings – and cater to largely homosexual clientele.
"If same-sex marriages were legal it would certainly be a boost to the economy," said Simone Palmer, who owns Sandcastle On The Beach hotel with her partner Sheryl Smith.
The hotel, gay-owned since its founding in the 1960s, performs several commitment ceremonies each year, Palmer said.
Senate President David Jones, who grew up in St. Croix, laughed at the idea when reached by telephone, saying any push for legalized same-sex marriages is part of a fad.
"The people are very tolerant and accepting, but as a matter of policy, that’s another issue," Jones said. "There’s no anti-gay laws. But specifically marketing St. Croix as a gay destination I don’t know if we’re ready for that."
The U.S. state of Massachusetts, the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada’s three most populous provinces are among the only places in the world where gays can marry.
The Caribbean: U. S. Virgin Islands
This travel guide was last updated 1/08. There may be places that changed since then. Call ahead, and please let us know about any corrections or new places of interest.
Only 60 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico, yet worlds away, sits another U.S. possession, the U.S. Virgin Islands. Purchased from Denmark in 1917 as a defensive move against the threat of German encroachment, the U.S. is just the latest in a long string of governors. Arriving in 1493, Columbus claimed the islands for Spain and named them "The Virgins" after the legendary St. Ursula and her 11,000 virginal companions who, averse to submitting to the brutish Huns, opted for martyrdom.
Since then the islands have passed between Holland, France, England, the Knights of Malta, and Denmark, with various pirates and buccaneers seizing what they could. Today these very individual, extraordinarily handsome islands add an unusual, American element to the Caribbean. Not exactly exotic, they successfully combine U.S. wealth, ideals, expatriates, and tourism with Caribbean culture and a fascinating history.
St. Thomas has one of the most idyllic harbors in the Caribbean at Charlotte Amalie. Though busy, it remains clean and cinematic, as does the rest of this island of hills, spectacular vistas, and duty-free shopping. St. John, three-fifths of which is set aside as a national park, is an island of serenity and natural abundance. St. Croix, although a blend of the two other islands, has a very distinct personality of its own. While enjoying the islands’ gorgeous beaches, discounted electronics, and savory sustenance, be aware of an important cultural trait: Locals always greet one another. Proper etiquette requires acknowledging those you come across with an observation of the time of day: good mornin’, good afta’noon, good night. This simple greeting will win instant smiles; without it you’ll miss half the beauty of these islands.
The actual word "gay," is virtually unheard. Rather, it is said a man has "sweetness." To be inflammatory, he can be called an "anti-man." The word lesbian is never used; "bulla man," is the local term, something akin to dyke. Bulla is the softer name, but has been so totally appropriated by females in general that the meaning has blurred. Relations between the LGBT community and the rest of the island population is laid back, live and let live.
Virtually all gays and lesbians resident in the Virgin Islands know each other. Most are snowbirds who fly down from the frost belt to escape the worst of winter. There are only about seven couples who live full time on St. John, the least populous of the three major islands. As for gay life, while there are few structured outlets for meeting, there seem to be a disproportionate number of sisters and brothers inhabiting these islands. Accompanying that comes a sophisticated dining scene and an acceptance of different lifestyles not all that common in the rest of the Caribbean.