Resistance against same-sex marriages on St Eustatius

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Two women who want to marry? It is an issue many people on the Dutch Caribbean island of St Eustatius are horrified by. Not to mention euthanasia and abortion. St Eustatius is threatening to go to the United Nations in protest against some aspects of Dutch legislation being imposed on them.

St Eustatius, Bonaire and Saba are to become ‘special municipalities’ of the Netherlands as a result of the formal dismantlement of the Dutch Antilles, which will take place later this year. When this happens Dutch law will be in force on the islands, which are former colonies of the Netherlands. They became semi-autonomous in 1954, when the Dutch Antilles got the status of a separate country within the kingdom of the Netherlands. The treaty underlying this status will end in October 2010.

The Island Council of St Eustatius has unanimously approved a motion against the ‘anti-social laws’ of the Netherlands, as Clyde van Putten, who tabled it, calls them. The document which was sent to the Dutch parliament on Tuesday, speaks of 'big cultural and emotional shocks'.

Huge moral objections
The islanders are mainly Christians and have huge moral objections to same-sex marriage and abortion, which the Dutch government cannot just push aside, says RNW's Antilles correspondent René Roodheuvel.

"The Netherlands has taken decades to formulate legislation on abortion, euthanasia and single-sex marriage. St Eustatius is getting it in two years, the abortion law will be imposed within just one year."

But constitution expert Lodewijk Rogier of Rotterdam’s Erasmus University is in no doubt over the matter: the islands will be subject to Dutch law.

"What can they ask the United Nations to do? The discussion there is usually about whether a country can operate independently. Not about the internal legislation of a county. St Eustatius is going to become part of the Netherlands and then Dutch law applies."

Time to adjust

The Dutch government had anticipated problems, which is why it gave the islands two years to get used to the changes.

Green Left MP Ineke van Gent is disappointed by St Eustatius’ resistance to the new laws, although she understands the sensitivities.

“Just like in the rest of the world there are gay people on the Antilles who love each other and want to marry,” says Ms Van Gent. “There is no question of society breaking down as feared by the opponents to the legislation.”

Practical objections
But the Island Council could get its way, even without UN intervention.
There is a whole package of matters that need to be addressed. Doctors have to be trained and legislation has to be modified. Dutch deputy minister Ank Bijleveld, who is responsible for introducing the new legislation, has already indicated that if it cannot be done, she will take the matter back to parliament.

But in the end St Eustatius is fighting a losing battle. The island has agreed to the reforms by which they become part of the Netherlands. And that includes its ethical legislation.