On Wednesday, history was made in the Caricom member state of Belize when the Supreme court struck down Section 53 of the criminal code in the country’s legislation. Section 53 of the Belize Criminal code dealt with the illegality of gay sex in the country. “Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person … shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years.
The law was challenged by the Director of United Belize Advocacy Movement, Caleb Orozco, a Belizean gay man and a prominent human rights defender.
Orozco, along with the movement’s attorney Lisa Shoman, challenged the country’s ant-gay law as unconstitutional and violating human rights.
The case was first heard in May of 2013. The claimants argued that Section 53 violated the same constitution which guarantees human rights to dignity, equal protection of the law, personal privacy and discrimination.
Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin presided over the matter and made the historic ruling, striking down the colonial era law. He maintained that Orozco’s claims were legitimate and that, as Chief Justice, it was his role to defend the country’s constitution.
Religious groups in the country have actively spoken out against the case from its inception.
However, Chief Justice Benjamin held that his role is not about making moral judgments and reiterated that “the Supreme Court may consider but not act on public held beliefs, particularly religious views”, according to an online news source out of Belize.
The Chief Justice also ruled that the definition of “sex” in S.16 (3) includes sexual orientation that is consistent with Belize’s international obligations.
Belizian attorney Lisa Shoman took to social media and said the historic court ruling “is game changing and ground breaking”.
The question still remains as to whether or not the Government of Belize, through the Attorney General, will appeal the Supreme Court’s decision.
Nonetheless could such a historic event have ripple effects throughout the Caribbean?
Belize is, by all obligations, a CARICOM member and, as a regional body that operates on precedence, we can safely say soon enough our courts may face the same fate.
A legal decision of such magnitude may not be something that is forced. However, we cannot assume such cultural issue to exist in a vacuum. This is seemingly the trend of the “First World” countries, and we are all a part of the same international community.
Jamaica’s LGBT association, J-FLAG, one of the largest lobbyist groups for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders, held a successful first Caribbean staging of PRiDE over the August 1 Emancipation weekend – another cultural anomaly with historic magnitude.
It is noteworthy to mention that there is a current challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law before the Supreme Court. The claimant in this case, a Jamaican lawyer by the name of Maurice Tomlinson, was also involved in the winning Belizean case. He stated, “Although not binding on the rest of the Caribbean States, the jurisprudence in the case will be highly persuasive.”
The STAR received an exclusive official statement from the executive director of J-FLAG, Dane Lewis. He commented, “J-FLAG welcomes the ruling made in the case of Caleb Orozco v Attorney General of Belize. We congratulate our brothers and sisters in Belize on this milestone. Criminalizing consensual intimacy between adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is an unwarranted breach of rights, and it is truly heartening that a Court within our region can recognize this.
“While celebrating this victory in the struggle for equal rights for LGBT persons everywhere, J-FLAG is cognizant of the differences in the legal context in Belize and other countries within the region. In light of those legal differences, we are cautious about any pronouncements of the implications of the case for the wider region.
“J-FLAG would like to underscore that despite the legal issues affecting the LGBT community (which are much broader than the buggery law), the local LGBT community continues to overcome these and other challenges they have been experiencing. Our hope is that PRiDEJA and our othernitiatives will continue to make LGBT Jamaicans feel empowered to claim equal citizenship and develop a culture of tolerance within the broader Jamaican society so that laws and policies which negatively impact LGBT Jamaicans will become relics of the past.”
Efforts to contact the local LGBT association of Saint Lucia for an official statement were unsuccessful. However, members were quite elated about the news coming out of Belize.Their PRO expressed online that she felt overjoyed and excited. “Homosexuality no longer a crime in Belize . . . Now next country please! St. Lucia !?!?!”
Perhaps it is time for our country to have some progressive legal adjustments and do away with some of the relic colonial laws that serve no real justice, and only impede our small island’s development.
There has been international pressure to honour sexual orientation human rights to these vulnerable groups. Such pressure may have serious implications on our international relations, trade and policy with the rest of the developed world. At such a pivotal point of our economic development it does not make any sense to hold onto retrogressive laws.