The case focuses on Section 53, a statute in the Belize criminal code that criminalizes anyone convicted of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” faces a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment.
Section 53 is an artifact of Belize’s colonial past that dates back to the 1880s.
The Belize Supreme Court heard the case in May 2013, but is still awaiting ruling from Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.
Caleb Orozco is a Belizean gay activist and executive director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement or UniBAM, a public health advocacy group in Belize for the LGBT community.
Orozco became an outspoken gay rights activist at the age of 31 after attending a workshop for gay men and people living with HIV/AIDS at a public conference in Belize City.
“I realized that you perpetuate your own mistreatment by remaining silent,” he told the New York Times magazine in 2015. “And I decided I would not be silent anymore.”
Lawyers from the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project, which focuses on human rights in the Caribbean, lead the case. The Human Dignity Trust, in collaboration with the International Commission of Jurists, and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association were admitted as interested parties to argue in support of Orozco.
Orozco’s lawyers argue that Section 53 violates rights guaranteed in the Belizean Constitution; including the right to human dignity, personal privacy, right to equality before the law, equal protection of the law and freedom from discrimination.
“This provision denies gay men both of recognition as equals citizens and the protection of the state. It also indirectly stigmatizes and discriminates against lesbian women, bisexual people and trans people, who face similar human rights abuses from both the state and non-state actors,” a statement of the case published on Human Dignity Trust’s website said. “The law fosters and perpetuates an environment in which all people engaging in same-sex intimacy are marginalized.”
The Roman Catholic Church of Belize, the Belize Church of England Corporate Body and the Belize Evangelical Association of Churches were admitted as interested parties in opposition to Orozco’s case.
In order to counter the Orozco’ campaign for equality under the law, Christian leaders have launched a nationwide campaign called Belize Action to denounce the “homosexual agenda.”
One member of this faction, Russell Vellos, editor-in-chief of Amandala, the largest newspaper in Belize, wrote in a page-long column that “homosexuals are predators of young and teenage boys.”
“Woe unto us, Belize, if homosexuals are successful in our court,” he said. “Woe unto us! In fact, since ours is a ‘test case,’ woe unto the world!”
Experts believe that if the court rules in favor of Orozco, this case could establish a precedent across Caribbean nations, and create a “domino effect” that would pressure neighboring governments to decriminalize homosexuality.
“The ramification of the Belize decision will be felt across the commonwealth, if not beyond,” said Human Dignity Trust Chief Executive Jonathan Cooper.
As a prominent supporter of LGBT rights, GLAAD offered a statement of solidarity with Orozco’s case.
“Orozco is a friendly and energetic advocate, who has a compelling personal story,” it said. “He has become the figure for LGBT advocacy in Belize, with many supporters and detractors. GLAAD calls on international outlets to give thoughtful attention to Caleb, the criminalization on LGB people in Belize, and the international implications of his case.”