Gay marriage on the rise

It is not the first time that a gay couple has got married in Trinidad and Tobago but such unions are clearly on the rise.

There is an increasing trend of local gay couples going to Unites States to get married– and returning to live here where gay marriage is not legally recognised.

Even though these couples may be recognised as wedded in the countries they get married in, as soon as they board a flight and enter Trinidad and Tobago air-space, it would seem they get an involuntary divorce mid-flight!

However, some of these couples are willing to go through the time, effort and expense to organise these trips abroad to get married because, as one couple put it, “marriage remains the ultimate symbol of their love for one another”. Gay marriages are also taking place among women who are increasingly holding ceremonies where vows are exchanges in front of family and friends.

The world is increasingly allowing gays to get married. The US state of California a few weeks ago legalised gay marriage by way of a court decision. The US courts have also sanctioned gay unions in: Connecticut (November, 2008); Iowa (April, 2009); Massachusetts (May, 2004). This month, another court decision will take effect in New Jersey (on October 21).

Additionally, US legislators came together to approve gay marriage in: Delaware (July, 2013); Minnesota (August, 2013); New Hampshire (January, 2010); New York (July, 2011), Rhode Island (August, 2013), Vermont (September 1, 2009). Voters in three states also voted in provisions, namely in: Maine (December, 2012); Maryland (January, 2013), Washington (December 9, 2012).

US President Barack Obama last year famously defended the right of gays to get married, even as he faced as grueling re-election campaign. In an interview with ABC, he said, “I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbours when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together... I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

Countries where gay marriage is allowed include: Argentina; Belgium; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; France; Iceland; Mexico; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Portugal; South Africa; Spain; Sweden; United Kingdom. There is a clear trend internationally, and the off-shoot of this is some local gays taking advantage of these reforms to give express to their own needs and to assert their equality with ordinary citizens.

Another couple, lesbians, also recently held a commitment ceremony here. Smart invitations were sent out to family, friends and loved ones for the touching, intimate ceremony, held by candle-light overlooking the sea. Several gay persons who recently got married – there are dozens – were asked to contribute to this article but declined saying that, like straight people, some gay people prefer it when other people minded their own business. Others cited stigmatisation and discrimination.

Gay people in this country still face tremendous legal and social bias, stigmatisation and discrimination. Some laws – though rarely implemented – have yet to be reformed while others, like the Equal Opportunities Act make a point of excluding gays from protections which the Constitution undoubtedly affords all citizens equally.

The marriage of a gay couple who exchange wedding vows abroad is not valid locally, former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma said. Sharma, who once presided over a landmark High Court case on the rights of unmarried persons in relationships, also said in his view the laws in place are “unfair”. He noted that partners in unmarried straight couples are afforded common-law rights but gays in committed relationships are not.

“A common-law wife who has been living with a man for forty years gets certain rights,” Sharma said. “In a case I presided over, I held that in this country we cannot treat unmarried couples in and unfair manner because the practice is so common here culturally. At the same time, we do not recognise homosexual relations. I am certain the principles of a common-law relationship would not be applied because it would be regarded as being against public policy.”

Sharma continued, “It might be unfair but it has not been tested in the courts. Some people might find the idea of two men living together for their entire lives repugnant. Some people might not. I personally do not find it repugnant. If a man wants to do that with another man that is their business. That is the nature of love, which does not offend. Such a love does not hurt anyone.”

Sharma noted that the foreign gay marriages may not even be effectively valid abroad in some jurisdictions where residency status is tied to marriage. As with the law, local religions mince no words in saying they do not recognise gay marriage.

“The Church’s position is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Anglican Bishop Claude Berkley, on a rainy Saturday afternoon at a children’s event held at Haynes Court, Queen’s Park Savannah. “The issue was considered in 1998 at the Lambeth Conference where a resolution was passed which acknowledged gay and lesbian people as members of the Church but indicated that the Church would not ordain gay clergymen nor authorise a right for gays to marry.” Berkley also made clear that Anglican clergy are banned from officiating even at informal “commitment” ceremonies.

At the same time, Berkley said the situation where members of the church get married abroad and then return is a “tricky” one.

“It is a tricky situation given that they are members of the church still,” he said. “The church is open to listening to these issues and to the stories of people who find themselves committed to this lifestyle and will have to reach out to them in some way or the other. This is not a question of punishment, but rather of directing them to the orthodox position.”

However, he added, “The position is under review and has been so for quite a while. People will push for gay marriage but the church has to consider all factors such as: scripture tradition and reason. All of that will take time and we are part of a world-wide communion.”

The Roman Catholic Pope Francis recently spoke out against discrimination of gays. In July made highly-publicised comments on the Church’s stance on gays. “If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he said. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalised.”

While these remarks have been hailed as marking a shift in tone for the church, they perhaps are not as radical as they seem. In fact, they are in line with the Catholic Church’s eternal mantra on the topic: hate the sin, not the sinner.

The Pope has, in fact, maintained the Church’s stance that homosexual acts are sin, and gay marriage is certainly not allowed.

Thus, gays are still left to find their own way to acknowledge their relationships. Despite the lack of legal and religious status, gays are increasingly seeking out marriages abroad for symbolic purposes.

They are actively challenging the idea that exchanging vows “‘til death do us part” is meant for some and not for all.


"Gay marriage on the rise"

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