76Crimes contributor Maurice Tomlinson reflects on what ten years of marriage means to a gay Jamaican.
Recently my husband Tom and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Unlike our nuptials which drew considerable media attention and death threats in my homeland, Jamaica, this step has been a much more low-key affair. Since moving to Canada, I have gone from practicing law to healthcare and, as a critical worker, have had to be at work during the pandemic, including on our anniversary. So instead of a big splash, Tom and I opted for a take out dinner from our favorite Indian restaurant to mark the occasion. We vowed to do something extraordinary after COVID, but who knows when it will be?
Over the past decade, we have suffered rejection from family members, doomsday prophecies from religious leaders, and even a bomb threat outside our home. However, we also appreciated the validation of our marriage by friends, family and even opinion leaders in Jamaica. We supported each other as we went through the parents’ funeral, the move (seven times), the job changes, the arguments and reconciliation with my teenage son, the changing expectations of privacy and illness. Many times we would hang on by our fingernails and even wonder if our marriage was a mistake. In other words, our ten-year union has for the most part been remarkably normal.
Yet the Jamaican Parliament was so disturbed by the prospect of marriages like mine that a year after my marriage 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, Canada, continues to thrive despite the fact that marriage equality has been legal for over 15 years. And the sun still rises and sets over Jamaica as the cool breezes gently soothe the island’s tropical heat and the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea still caress its shores. In other words, Jamaica remains an island paradise little disturbed by unions like mine.
As we move into our next decade and plan for retirement, Tom and I are focused on maintaining good health and finances so that we never burden our family or our country’s social services. We also want to return to Jamaica to take care of my aging father and escape Canada’s harsh winters. However, due to Jamaica’s ban on our marriage, Tom cannot join me as a citizen. We would also not be able to make decisions for each other if any of us became ill 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 by the American Convention, to which Jamaica is part. And our Caribbean neighbor, Barbados, has indicated it will recognize same-sex unions.
Tom and I hope that before the next decade Jamaica will lift its hateful and unnecessary ban on same-sex marriage, and love will finally triumph over fear.