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Tiny island introduces equality to the Caribbean

Timothy Kincaid

December 14th, 2012

Saba is about as big as a minute. Five square miles with less than 2,000 residents it sits near the Virgin Islands, an unspoiled paradise not yet ruined by tourist expectations. In fact, if you aren’t a diver, a climber, or Dutch, you’ve probably never heard of Saba.

It’s history is mostly pirates and rum and it’s economy is now eco-tourism, a place to go if you don’t want KFC on the corner and a rumcake factory down the block.

Saba is, along with Bonaire and Sint Eustatius, a Netherlands special municipality. As we discussed in 2009, this means that they fall under, to an extent, Dutch law and that they recognize same sex marriages performed in the Netherlands. But Bonaire and Sint Eustatius been hesitant to allow such marriage to be performed.

Not so Saba. It took them a while to get the laws in place, but last week the first same-sex marriage occurred in the Caribbean.

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, dressing in all white to celebrate the occasion. Gonzalez said people in Saba were very welcoming.

Perhaps this is not so surprising:

“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 so-called buggery laws implemented in colonial times. Some islands also have tried to amend their constitution to establish that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

While Saba is the first, the other Dutch islands are expected to follow. But for now, the phone is ringing off the hook in their central registry office with gay couples calling in to take advantage of the opportunity.

And in case you want to marry in paradise, Saba is a Leeward island (less hurricane prone) with year-round warm weather, one beach, elfin forests, and is one of the world’s top ten diving destinations. The population speaks English and seems to take the idea of human rights very seriously. But, alas, you have to have a Dutch passport.

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