First Jamaican Lesbian Wedding

Nicole Y. Dennis and Dr. Emma Benn jump the broom in Jamaica

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culture stifled by the seemingly robust structures of colonialism. I couldn’t tell her then that every time I touched the soil my insecurities flooded the gates of my consciousness and broke the levees, thus paralyzing me. However, when Emma and I finally returned to the island together after we got engaged in 2010, something felt different. At the time I couldn’t place what it was. There were no words to describe it since my brain had not yet processed it. I felt beautiful, empowered. Whole. It was also as if I took her to my homeland to solidify our bond, to introduce her to the real me. While I learned to love and appreciate myself, the good and the bad, I found my culture to be a big part of who I am.  

THE DECISION

I met up with my friend, Keisha Phipps, CEO of the consulting and event planning agency, Sterling Suns Group, for drinks in the neighborhood. Keisha, a fellow Jamaican, was the one who had initially planted the seed of having a wedding celebration in Jamaica.  By then, same-sex marriage was on the verge of being legalized in New York State.  It was March 2011, and although the possibility looked dim from where we sat on that early spring night at Madibas restaurant, a local spot, there was a pulse throbbing wildly beneath the surface.  The thought had hatched.  Emma was growing more and more excited about having our wedding in Jamaica as well. We began to work closely with Keisha who we ended up hiring as our wedding planner.

Slowly but surely, the dream wedding began to take form in our minds and became real when we began to hire key people like the photographer, the cake vendor, the DJ, and even Raif Boutique that would outfit us and our wedding party. 

One thing missing was the location. Location, location, location! The following question became a conundrum greater than the world’s biggest riddle: Which hotel in Jamaica would host a gay wedding? The question loomed about our heads for months.  We dug deep into the roots of the hairs on our heads. Emma and I took turns calling resorts in Kingston, the South Coast, and the North Coast. Pleasant voices with warring cadences of British and calypso accents greeted us on the phone. We clutched the receiver with sweaty palms as we prepared to come out as lesbians over and over again: “Yes, hello, we would like to inquire about hosting our wedding at your hotel. What’s the estimated cost for space?  Great! Just one more thing you need to know…my partner is a woman. Yes, that’s what I said.  A woman. Oh. OK. Uh-huh. I understand. Thanks for your time.”

In that silence after each click of the phone, we knew we would be asking around for a while. One hotel executive at a prominent hotel in Kingston told us they could host our wedding under one condition—that we not use their outdoor premises. But, with all it's natural beauty, an indoor wedding would defeat the purpose of getting married in Jamaica, so we kindly thanked her and moved on. Our search continued, taking us all the way to Negril where another hotel kindly advised us to try Hedonism. Hedonism. We’re not heathens; we’re two women in love.

As we researched wedding locations, the decision to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State grew closer. Emma and I had been engaged since March of 2010, so we waited patiently in front of the television on the night of June 24, 2011 when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the same-sex marriage legislation, our misting eyes glued to the screen. For an actual wedding to happen, we wanted it to be real. Legal. The bill was passed, recognizing for the first time, gay and lesbian unions as worthy by the state of New York. Following that great milestone, President Obama, who I proudly voted for in the 2008 presidential election shortly after I got my US citizenship, announced to the world on May 9, 2012 that he sanctions same-sex marriage. This announcement was a tremendous honor to millions of gays and lesbians who had fought for this very right.  

THE PROCESS

Emma and I wasted no time in getting our legal work taken care of, marrying quietly at the Brooklyn Municipal Building in the spring of 2012. Serendipitously, we discovered the perfect location to celebrate our union in Jamaica. Through word of mouth, we found out about the beautiful property that spans the white sanded beach of the North Coast, not too far from the reaches of the all-inclusive hotels with their massive architecture, maze-like compounds, and watered down versions of my culture.  We came to know this property as Silver Sands. With its quaint villas by the sea and beautiful gazebo overlooking the deep blue