Skip to main content

Gay U.S. ambassador faces backlash in Dominican Republic

By Diulka Perez and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 11:08 PM EST, Thu November 28, 2013
James Brewster has served on the national board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay rights group.
James Brewster has served on the national board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay rights group.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The new U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic is openly gay and married
  • James Brewster introduces his husband in a video posted on the embassy's website
  • Some religious groups protest his appointment
  • Others welcome his arrival, which was front-page news in many dailies

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (CNN) -- The welcome message from America's new top diplomat in the Dominican Republic touched on baseball, culture and trade ties. No surprises there.

But U.S. Ambassador James "Wally" Brewster brought one thing with him this week that's a first for a male U.S. ambassador in the Caribbean nation: a husband.

"My spouse, Bob, and I have traveled the world, from the far reaches of Asia to the stunning coastlines of southern Europe," Brewster says in a video introducing himself on the U.S. Embassy's website.

Then husband Bob Satawake chimes in: "But we always return to the beauty of the Dominican Republic."

After months of pressure from religious groups in the Dominican Republic who protested his appointment, Brewster arrived in Santo Domingo this week to begin his tenure as ambassador.

U.S. President Barack Obama praised Brewster's "knowledge and dedication" when he announced his appointment to the post in June.

The Dominican Republic's government quickly said it accepted Brewster's selection.

But some have been less welcoming.

High-profile Catholic Church leaders have decried the new diplomatic appointment as a sign of a lack of respect from Obama.

"He has not considered the particularities of our people. The United States is trying to impose on us marriage between gays and lesbians as well as adoption by these couples," said Father Luis Rosario, director of youth ministries for the church.

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez has also criticized Brewster's selection several times since Obama announced his appointment over the summer.

Local media reported that an evangelical church called for "black Monday" protests, asking people to show their opposition to Brewster by tying black ribbons on their cars, according to local media reports.

Others, including gay rights groups, have praised Brewster's appointment.

An editorial in the Dominican Republic's El Nacional newspaper this week discussed proposals Brewster outlined in the introductory video and urged readers to stop focusing so much on the new ambassador's sexual orientation, even though it has "generated more attention than his diplomatic mission."

Brewster alluded to the debate during his Senate confirmation hearing last month.

"I have already begun to see the challenges and controversies I will face in this job," he said, "but the rewards of representing the American people, creating a more prosperous hemisphere, and strengthening democracy through our evolving relationship with the Dominican Republic will be far greater than any challenge or controversy I will ever encounter."

His arrival in the Dominican Republic this week was front-page news in many of the country's newspapers, which also prominently discussed the arrival of his spouse.

A major fundraiser for Obama's 2012 campaign who most recently worked as a senior managing partner of SB&K Global, Brewster has also served on the national board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay rights group.

In a blog post this month, the group described Brewster as the fifth openly gay U.S. ambassador.

"It is a testament to President Obama and the U.S. Senate that the sexual orientation of these ambassadors is irrelevant to their qualifications for their posts," the campaign said.

In his introductory video, Brewster says that he and Satawake are longtime fans of baseball, which is very popular in the Domincan Republic, and that he's eager to increase economic connections between the United States and the Dominican Republic.

"My parents taught me that all people deserve respect, dignity, love and opportunity. They also instilled in me a strong belief in God, and the values of love and tolerance," he says. "Bob and I bring those beliefs and values with us as we come to the Dominican Republic. We are both thrilled to be coming back to our second home."

Journalist Diulka Perez reported from Santo Domingo. CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT