Aug. 17, 2004 – Fourteen pastors and more than 50 supporters who gathered at the Curriculum Center in Kingshill on Monday heard how six of St. Croix's senators and their at-large colleague stand on the issue of same-sex marriage.
According to the senators and their representatives, they stand united against it.
The organizer, Pastor Eddie Williams of Community Baptist Church, said after listening to the lawmakers, "We heard what we came to hear." But advocates of gay pride might have been upset if they had heard the statements made. One senator went as far to call homosexuality an abomination.
A St. Croix Source article published last month had focused the pastors' attention on the issue. In the article publisher Shaun A. Pennington was quoted as saying in a Chamber of Commerce luncheon address that a short-term solution to St. Croix's economic problems might be to make the island a tourist destination where same-sex couples could come to be wed. (See "Same-Sex Marriage Eyed as a Boon for St. Croix".)
Williams read the article almost in its entirety at the beginning of Monday's meeting. The report also quoted others at the chamber meeting. It was stated that there already is a movement afoot on St. Croix toward what Pennington was suggesting and that legislation permitting gay marriages would be the logical next step.
Beltane Harrigan of Way of the Cross Baptist Church said the pastors are willing to die fighting this issue. He said any redefinition of marriage would undercut "a great many family values."
All of the senators present indicated agreement.
Senate President David Jones said he would use his office to make sure that no bill that defined marriage other than the union between a male and a female would "see the light of day."
"I am totally, unequivocally opposed to any legislation that would redefine marriage," he said. Homosexual behavior, he said, is an abomination that "strikes to the heart of our beliefs."
The pastors asked all of the senators to state their opinion on same-sex marriage.
Sen. Usie Richards said he felt disgust when he read the Source article. "Our laws are already clear," he said. "Marriage is a union between a man and a woman." He added that St. Croix is a Christian community with 95 churches on its 84 square miles.
Sen. Douglas Canton Jr. said the concept of same-sex marriage "goes against everything I have been taught." As far as legislation allowing gay marriage, he said, "No way, José."
Sen. Luther Renee said, "This will never happen. We will walk a hundred miles to make sure that it will never happen." He said a breakdown in values is the cause of St. Croix's present problems.
Sens. Ronald Russell and Almando "Rocky" Liburd arrived at the meeting late. A representative of Russell cited his stance against any same-sex marriage proposals, and when the senator arrived, he reiterated that stance.
A Plan to 'Out-Positive the Negative'
Russell also said he has drafted legislation in support of traditional marriage in an effort to "out-positive the negative."
Liburd also said he is against same-sex marriage legislation.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste did not attend the meeting, but a representative said he also disapproves of any same-sex legislation.
Sen. Emmett Hansen II neither attended the meeting nor sent a representative.
Pastor Kenneth Dodson of Free Will Baptist Church, in remarks to the senators, said that one of his parishioners had told him that if legislation legalizing gay marriage were passed, "She would take her children and leave the island." He added, "Same sex is bad. It is worse if it is legislated."
When Pennington was told about the response to her proposal, she said, "It was never my intention to impinge on people's religious beliefs. This is a civil rights matter and an economic one, not a religious issue, as far as I'm concerned."
She added, "When I came to address the chamber I thought it would be pointless unless I could offer some idea that could bolster the economy here. There is no doubt in my mind that legalizing civil unions between gays would do that — and in a very short time period."
One suggestion that has been advanced in the same-sex marriage debate is that the union between homosexuals not be called marriage but simply be a civil contract that entitles gay partners to the same economic benefits as married couples.
Harrigan read a letter from Delegate Donna Christensen in which she said that, although she does not approve of gay unions being sanctioned as marriage, she believes that gay partners should have the same civil benefits as married heterosexuals.
Jones said he did not agree with that, either. He said it left too much "wiggle room."
A constitutional amendment has been proposed on the national level to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It appears to be going nowhere. Many states are also debating laws defining marriage.
Jones offered his interpretation of constitutional law at the meeting. He said that in matters of "separation of church and state," there is too much emphasis on separation. He said it might benefit communities more if there were a "blend" of church and state.
A Leading Role for Churches
Although no one else expressed it in such terms as Jones, the underlying theme of the meeting appeared to be that church representatives should play more of a leading role in the social life of the island.
Renee said, "If we use our collective power, we can bring about positive change." He suggested the church not just focus on the same-sex marriage issue, though, but play a role in other areas, such as education, as well. "This would not even be an issue if not for the poor economy," he said of the marriage idea. "We are suffering."
Liburd, referring to the meeting, said, "We should do a lot more of this."
Jones, thanking the pastors for setting up the meeting, similarly told them: "This was long overdue."
Williams responded, "This is just the beginning."
The senators were invited to a gathering at Southgate Baptist Church in September.
Baptist congregations sponsored Monday's meeting, and most of the ministers present were Baptist. A message had gone to other churches about the meeting, and other pastors were invited to show support. Six others did attend. They did not speak.
The Baptist pastors had prepared a resolution on marriage that they intended to present to the senators, but that never took place.
Williams said the group had wanted to discuss seven different issues with the senators, including homelessness, education and poverty. However, since Monday's meeting was limited to two hours, the ministers decided to focus on just the one topic at this time.
In his opening remarks, Jones said he knows there is a movement toward making St. Croix a gay-friendly tourist destination and that there are hotels on St. Croix that cater to same-sex couples.
A hospitality industry professional who asked not be identified said the territory already is a gay-friendly tourist destination and that it recently hosted a gay press trip and two photo shoots for gay publications.
The pastors did not have those magazine photos, but they had a video of a gay wedding taking place on St. Croix. If gay marriages are against the law in the territory, they asked, how are they being performed on the island?
Canton said, "People can do what they want. The question is, is it sanctioned by law? Gay marriages are not sanctioned by law here."
Pennington's remarks at the chamber meeting also have been a topic on local radio talk shows. She said Tuesday, "Having lived here for most of my adult life, I kn
ow these islands to be extremely tolerant. I must admit I was shocked by some of the vehemence that arose from my rather off-hand comments."
Several members of the gay community were contacted to comment for this article. They all declined to go on the record.
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