Belize strikes down anti-sodomy law. St. Lu­cia next?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - An­gel­ica O'DonoghueHolder By

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 other ini­tia­tives 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.

A ju­bi­lant Caleb Orozco (left) out­side court with his at­tor­ney Lisa Shoman.

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