When in Rome

Away from home, your mores take a backseat to local law

Vacations are supposed to be a time to relax, recharge or let loose. A holiday trek may also be highly educational. Certainly, that was the case for Dennis Jay Mayer and his partner, John Hart.

”Shame on us for not doing our research,” Mayer told the Associated Press. They may not have done their research, but they got loads of field study. How many of us can boast spending a night in Dominican jail?

The particulars of Hart and Mayer’s off-the-itinerary journey are somewhat disputed. Did the couple have sex on their balcony while in port in the Caribbean island nation? Were they merely naked, or scantily clothed? Regardless, local authorities boarded the Celebrity Summit, chartered by the gay vacation company Atlantis Events, and jailed the couple. The following day, they were convicted of indecent exposure and fined nearly $900 apiece.

In my own Facebook summation of the situation, sympathetic to the couple, an online pal wondered if their actions might be akin to ”American imperialism” – arriving in a sovereign land and treating the locals’ values and laws with dismissive disdain. I reckoned the irony there was the ”buggery” law with which the police reportedly threatened the couple is likely a British remnant of the 19th century days when her majesty ruled the Dominican roost.

By my values, Mayer and Hart were in the right, no matter how licentious their actions may have been. I don’t find sex offensive.

But ”right” and ”wrong” are irrelevant here. The world may be smaller than ever, but it’s still big enough that the moral high ground changes from border to border. All that matters is the law (at least in nations where rule of law is respected). As I read online debates of whether these oceangoing gays were treated unfairly by the Dominicans or whether the Dominicans themselves were the victims of libertine lewdness, that all seems beside the point, because, yes, I am a moral relativist. I don’t know how anyone can venture beyond her own front door and not be. Roam the world and it’s downright mandatory. Values are not universal.

That Swedish woman who habitually removes her top on Scandinavian shores in summertime might well be offended by the gender discrimination of U.S. beaches where ”male nipples good, female nipples bad” is the rule, with a few progressive exceptions. But even her bare scalp, much less her bosom, could have her doing time in Tehran. Yet there is nothing immoral about a naked body.

This may all well come up again in just a couple months. Atlantis is heading to St. Petersburg, Russia, this summer, where the city’s Legislative Assembly has essentially banned gaiety.

Sister franchise RSVP, meanwhile, is heading to Morocco – progressive by Islamic standards, but not by West Hollywood’s. Sure, the kingdom did stand-in duty for Abu Dhabi in Sex and the City 2, where production was banned, because Morocco’s more laid back than the United Arab Emirates, but the law may still be used against us little buggers.

Navigating the globe requires a literal compass more than a moral one. For your journeys, use common sense, research and a dose of humility and diplomacy. I think Hart and Meyer were treated unfairly. But in Dominica, what I think is insignificant relative to what the Dominican judiciary thinks. And that’s the lesson I carry with me around the world. When I see a chance to make a dignified statement, as Madonna well might in St. Petersburg (though a night in a Russian gulag is Billboard gold), I might make it. With that as my guide, I dearly hope I am never caught with my pants down, be it Branson or Baghdad.

Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Contact him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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