Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin issued his decision in the case against Section 53 of Belize’s Criminal Code that Caleb Orozco, a prominent LGBT rights advocate in the Central American country, brought in 2010.
“This is the first day of my life in which it is legal for me to be me,” said Orozco in a statement that Human Dignity Trust, a global advocacy group, issued after Benjamin announced his ruling.
Simone Hill, president of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, an HIV/AIDS service organization that Orozco co-founded, also applauded the ruling.
“This is about our human rights,” said Hill in the Human Dignity Trust statement. “As citizens of this country our rights should be respected without fear or favor.”
Lawyers from the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project, which focuses on human rights in the Caribbean, represented Orozco.
Human Dignity First, the International Commission of Jurists and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association are among the organizations that supported Orozco’s challenge of the sodomy law. The Belizean Roman Catholic Church and anti-LGBT groups from the U.S. backed efforts to oppose the case.
“This is a momentous victory for Belize,” said Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, in a statement.
A State Department spokesperson also responded to the ruling.
“We have seen reports that the Belizean Supreme Court has struck down Section 53 of the Belizean criminal code, that criminalizes same-sex relations between consenting adults,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade. “We welcome judicial action that protects universal human rights, including for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community, and look forward to reviewing the decision in detail when the full text is officially released.”
Belize — which is the only country in Central America with English as its official language — is located between Mexico and Guatemala.
Bahamian lawmakers decriminalized consensual same-sex relations in the island archipelago in 1991. Activists say that Wednesday’s ruling could have a positive impact on efforts to overturn sodomy laws in Jamaica and in other countries throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.