August 17, 2016 at 12:30 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Belize sodomy ruling could have sweeping impact in Caribbean

Maurice Tomlinson, gay news, Washington Blade

Maurice Tomlinson filed a lawsuit against Jamaica’s sodomy law in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Activists across the English-speaking Caribbean say last week’s Belize Supreme Court ruling that found the country’s sodomy law could have implications throughout the region.

Donnya Piggott, director of Barbados Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination, described the ruling to the Washington Blade as “groundbreaking and extremely promising.”

Barbados is among the countries in the English-speaking Caribbean in which consensual same-sex sexual conduct remains criminalized.

Piggott told the Blade that authorities earlier this year used the island’s sodomy law to charge a man who allegedly had sex with a 15-years-old. The colonial-era statute is rarely enforced, but the man could face life in prison if he is convicted.

“No change comes without initial backlash,” Piggott told the Blade, referring to the impact that the Belize Supreme Court ruling could have in Barbados. “So we have to brace ourselves for a stronger right-wing opposition, but apart from that I see (sodomy laws) tumbling like dominoes in the Caribbean.”

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago and in more than 60 other countries around the world.

“The Belize Supreme Court judgment positively and powerfully impacts efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex intimacy not only in Grenada, but worldwide,” Richie Maitland, co-founder of Groundation Grenada, a Grenadian human rights organization, told the Blade on Wednesday.

Will be ‘hard’ for Caribbean courts, lawmakers to ignore ruling

Caleb Orozco, a prominent LGBT rights advocate in Belize, filed a lawsuit against his country’s sodomy law in 2010.

Lawyers with the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project and AIDS Free World represented Orozco in the case. Belizean first lady Kim Simplis Barrow is among those who applauded the ruling.

“It’s a great day for Belize,” she said. “It’s a great day for human rights; one step closer to dignity and the respect we all deserve.”

Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, also applauded the landmark ruling.

“We congratulate our brothers and sisters in Belize in this milestone,” he said.

“Criminalizing consensual intimacy between adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is an unwarranted breach of rights,” added Lewis. “It is truly heartening that a court within our region can recognize this.”

Maurice Tomlinson, a prominent LGBT rights advocate and lawyer who lives in Montego Bay and Toronto, last November filed a lawsuit against the island’s sodomy law with the Jamaican Supreme Court. Javed Jaghai withdrew his lawsuit against the statute in 2014, citing concerns for his personal safety and that of his family.

Tomlinson told the Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from Toronto that the Belize ruling is not legally binding in Jamaica or in any other Caribbean country. He nevertheless said it would be “highly persuasive.”

“It will be very hard for any Caribbean court or legislature to ignore this ruling,” said Tomlinson.

Tomlinson also echoed Piggott’s concerns about a potential backlash from religious fundamentalists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center noted in a 2013 report that three anti-LGBT religious groups from the U.S. — the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and Extreme Prophetic Ministries — support Belize Action, a group that opposed Orozco’s lawsuit against Belize’s sodomy law.

Liberty Counsel Chair Mat Staver and Dr. Judith Reisman, who publicly challenges Alfred Kinsey’s research on sexuality, are among those from the U.S. who have traveled to Jamaica in recent years and attended events organized by groups that oppose efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Scott Strim, an American evangelical who opposed efforts to repeal Belize’s sodomy law, and National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown both spoke at an anti-LGBT conference that took place in Barbados in April.

“I’m sure they are pulling out all the stops to reach out to their potential cronies to make sure that nothing happens,” Tomlinson told the Blade.

Repealing Trinidad and Tobago sodomy law not ‘principle target’

Colin Robinson, director of CAISO, an LGBT advocacy group in Trinidad and Tobago, told the Blade on Monday that the impact of the Belize ruling in his country remains unclear.

“The case builds our self-confidence that local and regional institutions can actually deliver justice for LGBTI people,” he said.

Robinson applauded the University of the West Indies, which has a campus in Trinidad and Tobago, for the role it played in the case. He nevertheless told the Blade that the country’s sodomy law “ought not be our principle target” because it is not enforced.

“There are easier litigation targets,” said Robinson, noting he and other activists are currently pushing the government to add sexual orientation to an anti-discrimination law and repeal a 2012 statute that criminalized sexual touching among children of the same sex with life in prison.

“The government is very well aware of both targets,” he added. “They’re very well aware of the priorities.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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