A Jamaican gay rights activist last week filed the Caribbean island’s first domestic challenge to its anti-sodomy law.
AIDS-Free World on Feb. 7 filed the complaint with the Jamaica Supreme Court on behalf of Javed Jaghai, who said his landlord kicked him out of his home because of his sexual orientation. The Dartmouth College graduate talked about his case in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
“It is a reminder that there is much more work to be done to achieve equality for gay Jamaicans,” Jaghai wrote. “We can sit patiently while our humanity is denied and wait for the paradigm to shift in a generation or two, or we can aggressively agitate for change now. I choose to do the latter.”
Those convicted under Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law, which dates back to 1864, face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St. Kitts and Nevis are among the 11 English-speaking Caribbean countries that continue to criminalize homosexual acts.
The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have all criticized the Jamaican government for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in the country.
Jamaican lawmakers in 2011 unanimously approved a new constitution that explicitly guaranteed the right to privacy for the first time. Although the anti-sodomy law remains in place, Jaghai’s lawyers maintain it’s now impossible to enforce it.
Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland last February after he received death threats following local media reports about his marriage to a Canadian man, told the Washington Blade the eventual outcome of Jaghai’s case could reverberate throughout the region.
The Dutch island of Saba remains the only jurisdiction in the Caribbean that allows gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten do not allow same-sex marriage, but the Netherlands requires them to recognize those performed within the country.
Tomlinson said Jaghai’s case could potentially have an impact on relationship recognition of same-sex couples in the Caribbean.
“That would be a long-term effect we expect,” he said. “Right now it’s to get the courts to acknowledge that at least in private same-gender loving individuals have the rights of everyone else.”
The court is expected to hear Jaghai’s case on June 25.