July 21, 2004 – Shaun A. Pennington, guest speaker at a St. Croix Chamber of Commerce meeting and publisher of V.I. Source newspapers, asked chamber members Wednesday for ideas on how to make St. Croix a better place, then she presented her idea — sanctioned same-sex marriages.
She said it isn't a totally new idea, but now is the time for enabling legislation to be enacted. Several states have struggled with the concept of same-sex unions, but nothing appears to have met congressional approval. Meantime, a movement to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one woman and one man died in the Senate last week when it failed to get a simple majority on a procedural vote which needed a super majority of at least 60 votes to pass.
Pennington said, "We have the power to enact a short-term solution to St. Croix's economic problems."
She admitted that the proposal "could become a hot potato" but she also added, "It could put St. Croix on the road to economic recovery."
Her proposal would make same-sex marriage, like casinos, legal only on St. Croix — for the first two years.
She said the legislation would result in an "immediate influx of visitors, and economic development and jobs would follow." She said that, after a while, the airlines might be forced into rethinking how they service St. Croix.
Jim Hoffman responded to Pennington's comments by stating that there already is a movement afoot to make St. Croix "the gay Virgin."
He pointed out that resorts are now offering gay unions and there is the St. Croix Business Guild, a not-for-profit organization of gay, lesbian and gay-friendly business owners. He said the mission of the guild is to promote St. Croix and its gay, lesbian and gay-friendly businesses to the entire community and worldwide.
The guild's St. Croix Diversity Web site states: "The gay market is one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy. St. Croix has a lot to offer to the gay, lesbian, and gay-friendly traveler."
Hoffman agreed with Pennington that the next logical step is legislative action.
Audience members presented an assortment of ideas.
Carmelo Rivera, a former Labor commissioner, said St. Croix needs a smart policy of "fix it, clean it or lose it." He said something has to be done about the abandoned and rundown properties on the island.
Lou Stefani, who identified himself as a concerned citizen, said that privatizing the utilities would bring a $20 million profit to them. He said, "You can have your utilities cheaper and have them work better."
Shirley Joseph, executive director of V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled, said she has always loved Frederiksted and believes "it could arise from the ashes."
In her opening remarks, Pennington said that St. Croix is different from St. Thomas where she lives. "You have space," she said, with hiking trails and places to bike. St. Thomas, she said, has only one hiking trail, "and that just came about recently."
In closing the program, Anna Heyliger-Hector, chamber president, echoed Pennington saying that St. Thomas and St. Croix are very different places. And, she added, "I don't want to see anything duplicated or replicated from St. Thomas to here."
Other Suggestions Submitted
Pennington also accepted unsigned, written suggestions about improving St. Croix and how The Source could help in fostering such improvement.
Among the suggestions:
– "Create an architectural committee to enhance the beauty of this island community."
– "I would like to see intelligent politicians who are business minded. We need highly qualified medical people, a privatized hospital and privatized schools."
– "I would like to see St. Croix's crime rate decreased by having more resources and training from outside enforcement agencies. Also some type of clothing, shoe or bag factory in Frederiksted."
– "Affordable housing for the locals, not Estate Carlton, $150,000 per unit. If low-income families can own their own property, they would have more pride and invest more in their communities."
– "The government involvement in crime reduction, infrastructure repairs and graft reduction is essential."
Pennington has lent her support to a number of organizations including the League of Women Voters of the V.I., the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council, the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, the Ad Club of the Virgin Islands and the Friends of Fort Christian.
On Jan. 15, 1999, Pennington launched St. Thomas Source. It was followed in July of that year by St. Croix Source and, five months later, by St. John Source.
In 2001, the Rotary Club of St. Thomas II chose her as its Person of the Year.
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