Tourism and tolerance: the gay cruise controversy
Thank God, the recent controversy over the visit to the island later in the year of a cruise vessel carrying gay passengers seems to have abated. The opposition raised to the visit by the St. Maarten United Ministerial Foundation, a multi-denominational group drew sharp reactions from many commentators in the community, mostly critical of the pastors’ and their position on the matter. The results of the online poll conducted by avsnewsonline.com also seem to corroborate the stand taken by most critics of the pastors: that the cruise ship bearing the gay passengers is free to visit the island.
As a matter of fact, it would not be the first time such a vessel would come to St. Martin. Similarly, the SMUMF itself admitted that it never raised the question during consultations for the Tourism Master Plan. This, of course, does not disqualify the foundation from addressing the issue now, although it does raise doubts about why it did not in the past.
Tourism is NOT the cause of homosexual behaviour, nor is it the reason why the gay community seems to be increasing in numbers. That fact has been well digested by the average St. Martiner. Gay cruise or no gay cruise, it is not within the St. Martin personality to be homophobic. If any such tendencies are becoming discernible amidst us, it must be attributed to outside influence.
Tolerance is the main trait of the St. Martin character. Religious tolerance; cultural tolerance; tolerance of opinions and ideas as well as of conduct that may not be ordinarily the norm. That is what preachers are supposed to preach. And that is what many St. Martiners believe in.
It is not a weakness; to the contrary, it is a strength that has made the island into what it is today. “The Friendly Island” is friendly because the people are very tolerant of others who may not be like them. The much-flaunted 100 plus nationalities that cohabit on this 37 square mile in harmony do so because St. Martin people are tolerant.
They are not embracing homosexuals because of any tourist dollar these may bring, but because they have a deep respect and tolerance for the sexual preferences of others. They are not less religious than the pastors who sought to make an issue out of it, but believe strongly that love indeed conquers all, and that is the ideal we should all aspire to.
Tolerance is a Christian virtue; it is also what would strengthen any democracy. We must not sacrifice it on the altar of bigotry, discrimination, or religious fanaticism.