76Crimes contributor Maurice Tomlinson reflects on what ten years of marriage means for a gay Jamaican.
Recently my husband Tom and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Unlike our nuptials that generated considerable media attention and death threats in my homeland Jamaica, this milestone was a much more muted affair. Since relocating to Canada, I switched from practicing law to healthcare and as an essential worker I had to be on the job during the pandemic, including on our anniversary. So, instead of a big splash, Tom and I settled on a take-out dinner from our favorite Indian restaurant to mark the occasion. We promised each other that we would do something fancy post-COVID, but who knows when that will be?
In the past ten years we have endured rejection by family members, doomsday prophecies from religious leaders, and even a bomb threat in front of our home. However, we have also enjoyed validation of our marriage from friends, family and even opinion leaders in Jamaica. We supported each other as we navigated burying parents, moving house (seven times), job changes, fights and reconciliation with my teenage son, changed intimacy expectations, and illness. Many times, we were hanging on by our fingernails and even wondered if our marriage was a mistake. In other words, our decade-old union has mostly been remarkably normal.
Yet Jamaica’s Parliament was so perturbed at the prospect of marriages like mine that a year after my wedding a constitutional ban on same-sex unions was implemented. This was largely at the behest of hysterical right-wing Christians who convinced our leaders that gay unions would destroy our country. Yet, our adopted country of Canada continues to thrive despite marriage equality being legal for over 15 years. And the sun still rises and sets over Jamaica while cool breezes gently soothe the island’s tropical heat and the warm waters of the Caribbean sea still caress her shores. In other words, Jamaica remains an island paradise quite undisturbed by unions like mine.
As we enter our next decade and plan for retirement, Tom and I are focused on maintaining good health and finances so that we won’t ever be a burden on our family or our country’s social services. We also want to return to Jamaica to care for my aging father and to escape Canada’s harsh winters. However, because of Jamaica’s ban on our marriage, Tom cannot join me as a citizen. Neither would we be able to make decisions for each other if either of us became sick and incapacitated on the island, as we would be strangers under the law. At the same time, the highest human rights body in the western hemisphere, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, has already ruled that same-sex marriages are guaranteed under the American Convention, to which Jamaica is a party. And our Caribbean neighbor Barbados has indicated that it will recognize same-sex unions.
Tom and I hope that before our next decade rolls around Jamaica will scrap its hateful and useless ban on gay marriage and love will finally triumph over fear.