Marriage equality fever continues to sweep the globe, with Germany, Australia and Malta all passing same-sex marriage laws in 2017. Joining them is the tiny South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, which just approved marriage equality this week in a 9-2 vote by the country’s legislative council.
St. Helena, formally known as the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, has a population of less than 4,500 people. Same-sex marriage was already legalized on Ascension Island as of January 1, and on Tristan da Cunha as of August 4. (The three islands combined have less than 6,000 full-time residents, making them the smallest country to embrace equality to date.)
When a gay couple applied for a marriage license earlier this year, the matter was brought to Saint Helena’s council. Now that the vote has passed, weddings could begin in as soon as two weeks.
St. Helena council member Cyril Leo worried the law could cause a “deep divide” on the island, but asked residents to embrace the democratic process.
“We cannot discriminate,” added council member Christine Scipio-o’Dean. “We must not, and we must strive to ensure equality.”
Corinda Essex, a council member who opposes marriage equality, abstained from the vote.
“I have no objection to same-sex relationships and indeed I respect them I know a number of people who have entered into them. I am no way homophobic in any respect. However I believe that can be achieved through civil partnership. I believe very strongly that marriage was ordained not just in the Christian faith but in all the [main] faiths of the world… [as being] between a man and a woman.”
But, she admitted, worldwide attitudes are shifting and it was important to “put our personal views aside and consider the bigger picture.”
In October, we reported on Jonathan, an 186-year-old giant tortoise who lives on St Helena and shares weekly mating sessions with his partner, Frederic. Caregivers previously believed Frederic was a female, but realized they were misgendering him after healing a lesion on his body. No word yet on whether Jonathan and Frederic will put a ring on it.
Bermuda, another British Overseas Territory, recently rescinded marriage equality just six months after enacting it.