While the current cadre of National Democratic Party (NDP) legislators may not vote for same sex marriage, at least one Government Minister believes that the Territory will have no choice but to adopt the practice once the United Kingdom implements it. The UK is making legislative strides to implement same sex marriage.
Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie W. Skelton holds the popular view that the BVI, being a colony of Britain, will have to accept it.
"Yes, we may not you know; none of us will probably vote for same sex marriages, but what I would say is that we are a colony of Britain and if Britain wants us to adopt it, unless we go on our own, we will have no choice...that's what they did with the homosexuality in private places," Hon. Skelton said during NDP radio last evening, February 18.
Hon. Skelton's comments came in response to caller, who recalled that the Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources had indicated that the BVI did not allow same sex marriage when amendments were made to the Marriage Act.
The Health Minister reiterated that they did not amend the Marriage Act to accommodate any same sex marriage.
"What we amended the Marriage Act for is to make the BVI a more attractive destination for the traditional marriages that we have now, but amending the Marriage Act...didn't have anything to do with same sex marriage," Hon. Skleton pointed out.
Premier and Minister for Finance, Hon. Dr. Orlando Smith stated that Government has not formally discussed same sex marriage, but as a tourism destination, the BVI remains open to all persons.
"...This is a free country and we respect other people's beliefs and what they practice and from a point of view from our economy, we welcome everybody. From the point of view of what we believe as same sex marriage is concerned, that is something as a Government we have not discussed, but everybody has their own opinion and own beliefs and it's something, I am sure it's something that will be discussed sometime in the future, but not now," Premier Smith stated.
Host of the program, Ms. Eileen Parsons, a former legislator, related that if the practice is allowed in the BVI, then the churches could say no to same sex marriage, but if persons go to the Registrar's Office, the Registrar will have no choice but to perform it.
Article Published February 7, 2013
BVI May Have Little Choice But To Accept Same Sex Marriage
Lawmakers in the United Kingdom (UK) have voted in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry and the general consensus is that the BVI, being an Overseas Territory of the UK, will have to accept it at some stage.
Prime Minister David Cameron supported the measure and secured approval across party lines for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which passed with 400 votes to 175.
The bill still needs to clear other stages in Parliament, including another vote in the lower and scrutiny by the upper house, the House of Lords.
Efforts to solicit a comment from Governor Boyd McCleary were unsuccessful.
Historian Dr. Quincy Lettsome pointed out that over the years, the OTs have had to adopt and implement laws that the UK has passed.
"History has shown that the law at some stage becomes mandatory for the OTs, including the BVI. They could ask us to accept the law as is or make amendments to our legislation to reflect their laws," Dr. Lettsome pointed out.
He noted that when laws are passed to implement same sex unions it means that the country is reaching a certain stage and starts declining.
"When you have same sex marriages you wouldn´t have any children and over the long term what is going to happen? The BVI being a Christian community will certainly have difficulty accepting same sex marriages. It is interesting though that the British brought Christianity to us, but we now seem to have become the standard bearer for Christianity...the BVI will not have much options. If we don´t want it we either go independent or accept it," Dr. Lettsome shared.
Former Financial Secretary and Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Glenroy Forbes explained that in order for any law passed by the UK to be applied to the BVI it either has to be sent to the BVI by an order by the UK Council where they can make an order and extend it to the Territories or the UK can ask the BVI to incorporate the provisions in their statutes through the local House of Assembly.
"We saw this happen with the homosexual legislation. When the UK decriminalized homosexuality they then asked the overseas Territories, including the BVI to do it. The BVI was reluctant to do so what the UK did was make an Order in Council. Because of our constitutional relationship with them they can do that," Mr. Forbes pointed out.
He stated that once the BVI retains the same constitutional relationship with the UK then "we have no choice, but to accept it".
According to Mr. Forbes, the alternative is to change the constitutional relationship.
"Are we willing to do that; I don´t think so. I don´t think we have even debated it properly. On a personal note I have said on numerous occasions that we need to begin to discuss our constitutional relationship with the UK because one of my greatest fear is that some day or night the UK is going to do something that we will take as a personal affront and we will jump into independence unprepared and we all going to suffer if that happens. The alternative is to start discussing it with them and have them [the UK] help pay for our independence so we can have certain millstones and targets and move gradually towards changing the relationship," Mr. Forbes pointed out.
BVI Not Ready
Mr. Forbes stated that traditionally the BVI has been very conservative and heavily influenced by the church.
"These are things that traditionally churches like the Methodist will not smile on. They might be some people in the BVI community who are quite liberalized when it comes to these things, but I think there is still a conservative set who still believe a union should be between a male and female," Mr. Forbes pointed out.
Bishop John Cline, Senior Pastor at the New Life Baptist Church preaches tolerance of homsexuals, but believes that the BVI community and culture is just not ready to embrace same sex unions through legislation.
"I think the religious outcry should ring loud and clear that we will not support such a move and I think in the UK it was split decision which indicates that they also are wrestling with their decision much more so here in the BVI. While we are not in a position to condemn anybody we will not condone or legalize such behaviour," Bishop Cline stated.
He added that once the UK embraces it then it will eventually end up `on our doorstep´, but believes that the BVI should have an opportunity to have the law debated and voted on as was done in the UK.
"I would hope that due process would take place in the BVI before it goes legal in any way that we are given the right to self-determine what happens in our community concerning such a controversial issue. If we see something that is coming to us then we should have to debate it in the House of Assembly and for sure we as a church community should not remain silent," Bishop Cline stated.
He noted that the Bible says righteousness exalts a nation and same sex marriage is an unrighteous act which does not align with the principles of God. According to Bishop Cline no nation built on unrighteousness can last for long.
"It is a self-destructive behaviour that does not support community, family and reproduction and it is not how God planned it. We can twist it however we want; we can become understanding because they are friends and families of ours and we can do whatever we can, but God will not change his mind. I think the Christian community is reactive and this is something that we should get out ahead of instead of being reactive; we should begin to make our position clear to the powers that be in London or right here in the BVI that this is an unacceptable thing for us and as a Christian community it does not align with the principles of God," Bishop Cline stated.
He added, "I believe that all men are created equally, but we as humans cannot override the laws of god and when God as far as I am concerned and what I understand; when God set things in place it was always an abomination among many other things like bestiality, incest and all of those other sexually immoralities. Homosexuality was listed among them. Just like we wouldn´t legalize a person having sex with their pet or their sister or their brother then we should not legalize same sex marriages or same sex relationships."
Bishop Cline stated that he does not necessarily share the view of going independent on the issue of same sex marriages alone. He stated that the BVI lives in a global village and must acknowledge that there are homosexuals living in the community.
"They are in our schools, our churches and our families and we have to find a way to deal with it. I don´t think legalizing gay marriages is the way to deal with it," Bishop Cline stated.
The Answer Is No
If there was any doubt about where the Government of the Virgin Islands stood on the issue of same sex marriages in the Territory, Deputy Premier and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Hon. Dr. Kedrick Pickering has helped to put some of the doubt to rest.
During the National Democratic Party's (NDP) radio programe, NDP Radio, last year a caller asked whether Government would promote same sex marriage as part of its plans for marriage tourism.
"The answer is no," Dr. Pickering responded without giving any further comment on the question.
On May 10, 2012 Legislators passed amendments to the Marriage Act as Government expressed the need for the Territory to enhance its competitiveness as a wedding and honeymoon destination. The amendments, tabled by Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Dr. Orlando Smith, will only see reduced residency requirements for a special marriage license from three days to one day.
Some tourism experts predict that same sex marriages along with gay and lesbian travels have increased. Aruba has taken the leap in this direction, but Caribbean countries have largely adopted laws against such marriages. The BVI is no different and church leaders want it to remain that way.
The U.K.'s move comes as other countries and jurisdictions are debating similar moves, including in other countries in Europe and the U.S. In France, a bill that proposes legalizing gay marriage is making its way through parliament and a final vote on the measure is scheduled to take place next week.
The Netherlands became the world's first country to do so in 2001. About 10 other countries have followed suit-including Argentina, Canada and Spain. In the U.S., where Barack Obama last year became the first sitting president to publicly declare support for legalization of same-sex marriage, a number of states recognize such unions.