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Convention Gets Into Gay Marriage Controversy

Sept. 20, 2008 — Will the Virgin Islands immerse itself in the controversy over gay marriage? The preamble and bill of rights being crafted by the 5th Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention closely follows the U.S. Constitution, with some local adaptations. But some draft language being sent back to legal counsel for review includes a prohibition against gay marriage.
Meeting at the University of the Virgin Islands' St. Croix campus Friday, the committee handling these topics discussed suggestions returned from the last plenary session and worked toward final language to present to the whole convention. Chairwoman Lois Hassell-Habtes projected draft language from the Fourth Constitutional Convention, along with language from the last plenary session and from consultant Carlyle Corbin. It was a nuts and bolts session, with many minor changes in wording, verb tenses and the like approved by unanimous consent.
Under "Protection of the Right to Marry and Found a Family" is the passage "There shall be no same sex marriage enacted in the territory."
There were several views on the passage. Delegate Gerard Emanuel argued that raising the issue needlessly courted controversy.
"My question is, does this rise to the level of a fundamental right?" he said. "Or are we putting our personal religious views into the constitution? This is the one instance where I don't even think we need to be dealing with this." Delegate Mary Moorhead agreed.
"People are waiting for this," Wilma Marsh Monsanto said. "You are messing with almighty God if you take that out."
"If people really want that, let them request it," Emanuel said.
"The title of the section has nothing to do with what you are saying there," said delegate Douglas Brady, prompting Hassell-Habtes to suggest sending the language back to legal counsel for review. The committee agreed by unanimous consent.
Delving deeper into dinner-table theology, a spirited debate on divine gender occurred early in the meeting ensued over whether or not to be simply "grateful to Almighty God for our creation, preservation, freedom, and Divine Guidance," or grateful for "His Divine Guidance."
"The Lord is in fact male," Monsanto said. "The Lord Jesus was of male gender. He is not the Father, but the Father made flesh. I don't think we should leave any room for misunderstanding or thought that He is not almighty God: He not Her."
"But how is 'Divine Guidance' really different?" Hassell-Habtes asked. "You know what you mean by divine guidance. Can't it be for you to put your interpretation in parentheses, if you will, leaving it open for every resident of the Virgin Islands to decide according to their conscience?"
Voting to keep the "His" reference were Monsanto, Francis Jackson and Douglas Brady. Myron Jackson voted to remove it and Hassell-Habtes abstained. Emanuel arrived shortly after the vote.
The committee also voted to include language they requested from Corbin that acknowledges the contributions to Virgin Islands society of peoples from throughout the wider Caribbean, mentions the Virgin Islands' status as an unincorporated territory and notes the major events in Virgin Islands history such as Emancipation, Fireburn, the 1917 U.S. purchase and the U.S. Nationality Act of 1940 giving Virgin Islanders U.S. citizenship. Voting for the language were Emanuel, Hassell-Habtes, Monsanto, Myron Jackson and Francis Jackson. Brady voted against, asking why some groups within Virgin Islands society were acknowledged but not other groups.
A section saying simply "Waiver of judicial review shall not be a condition for employment," was sent to legal counsel for analysis. The aim of the passage is to make sure Hovensa contractor employees cannot be required to sign binding arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. There is a long history of efforts by both individuals and the government of the Virgin Islands to overcome many conservative court rulings and get around the broad and far-reaching federal Arbitration Act, enacted in 1925, that sets a solid seamless exception-less wall of enforcement of arbitration agreements.
The convention is coming down to the wire, with a revised deadline of Oct. 6 to produce a document. It has asked the Legislature for an extension, but has not been granted one to date.
The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1976 to allow the people of the Virgin Islands and of Guam to adopt territorial constitutions. Any constitution has to be consistent with federal law and with the U.S. constitution. The form of the government must be republican in form, with executive, legislative and judicial branches, and it must have a bill of rights. But there are few other restrictions. The itsourfuture.vi website has excerpts and links to the full text of the relevant laws, and much more information.
There have been four previous constitutional conventions, but no territorial constitution yet. The most recent convention was in 1980. (For a detailed history of previous conventions and extensive background information on the subject, see " V.I. CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS: BACKGROUND.")
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