The Supreme Court in Belize has struck down Section 53, an anti-sodomy law, from the country’s criminal code, in a move that has been described as historic in the Caribbean which could have an impact on other countries in the region.
Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code reads, “Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person … shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years.”
In essence, it criminalizes consenting intercourse between adults of the same sex.
However, the law was seen as a relic of the country’s British colonial past and was challenged in 2010 by the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) headed by director Caleb Orozco as unconstitutional.
With the support of attorney Lisa Shoman and other lawyers from the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project, The Human Dignity Trust, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the matter was taken to the Supreme Court in Belize.
They claimed that the law violated 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.
On Wednesday, August 10, 2016, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin ruled that the Code contravenes the right guaranteed by the Constitution of Belize to no interference with a person’s dignity and personal privacy, as well as equality and equal treatment of all persons before the law.
In his ruling, he said his job is to defend the Constitution of Belize and not make moral judgments (referring to opposition from Christian groups).
He said the definition of “sex” under Belizean law includes sexual orientation consistent with country’s international obligation.
He also ordered an amendment to Section 53 that will specify it does not apply to consenting sexual acts between adults of the same gender.
The Chief Justice stated that removing the section from the law would help accelerate the fight against HIV, especially among men who have sex with men (MSM), who are stigmatized and thus refuse to participate in testing and treatment programs.