In a groundbreaking decision that could have far-reaching consequences, the Belize Supreme Court ruled this month that a law that punishes sex between homosexuals is unconstitutional, making the country the first former British colony in the Caribbean to do so.
A lawsuit challenging the law was filed in Belize’s highest court, in 2010 by Belize native Caleb Orozco and the group he directs, United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM). UniBAM’s attorneys argued current law violated provisions of the Constitution of Belize that recognize individual rights to human dignity, to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy and to equal protection under the law.
“While it is not legally binding to any national judiciary, the ruling has a precedence value in that it can offer an interpretation of the law where rights are similar for judges to consider in their decision,” Orozco told SFGN. “The ruling offers activists to study the process of non-legal strategies that complement strategic litigation. It motivates others in the other 10 Caribbean countries that criminalizes same-sex activity.”
Jamaica is one of those ten countries that still has colonial-era anti-sodomy laws. Lawyer/LGBT activist Maurice Tomlinson was forced to leave the country after receiving death threats. He filed a closely-watched lawsuit last December trying to overturn those laws. Both Tomlinson’s case and the one in Belize have been opposed by religious groups – most notably the fundamentalist Christian legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom.
This is the same group involved in helping write so-called “religious liberty” laws in the U.S. that would legalize discrimination against LGBT people. The group is also pushing anti-trans school policies by targeting schools that include trans-inclusive gender-affirming language in existing policies.
Tomlinson said the decision in Belize will be hard for Jamaican officials to ignore. “All the rights that the judge ruled were violated by the Belize law are the same as those that I have cited in my own case,” Tomlinson told SFGN. “So it will be very hard for a court in Jamaica to ignore such a decisive judgment from a similar court in a sister Commonwealth and CARICOM nation.”
CARICOM, known as the Caribbean Community, is an organization made up of Caribbean nations and dependencies for the purpose of promoting economic integration and cooperation and to coordinate foreign policy. The fifteen members include Antigua and Barbuda; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Montserrat; Saint Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Suriname; and Trinidad and Tobago.
Orozco agreed. “Whether in Belize, St. Lucia, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica activists are slowly scaling up their advocacy to advance rights in the region about CARICOM member states, in spite of American Fundamentalism, are prepared to carry the burden of advancing dignity and rights concerns,” he said.
The Human Rights Commission notes Belize is the third nation to decriminalize gay sex this year. Aside from Belize, the others are Nauru, a small island state located in the Pacific Ocean, and Seychelles, an island state in the Indian Ocean.