BELMOPAN, Belize, Thursday August 11, 2016 – What two consenting men do in their bedroom is none of the law’s business. That, in essence, is what the Supreme Court in Belize said yesterday as it struck down a section of the country’s Criminal Code that criminalizes intercourse between consenting homosexuals, ruling it unconstitutional.
Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin has ordered that the offending legislation be amended, to include a clause stating that it “shall not apply to consensual sexual acts between adults.”
The landmark judgment that was hailed as a victory for the local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community, was handed down in a challenge brought by LGBT activist Caleb Orozco against the constitutionality of Section 53. That Section states that “every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal . . . shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years.”
Orozco, Executive Director of United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), had argued that the law criminalizes intimacy between gay men who are consenting adults, and it violates their rights.
And the court agreed. Chief Justice Benjamin said it contravenes the human rights granted under the Belize Constitution.
He ruled that Section 53 contributes to prejudice, and lends itself to the stigma that all gay men should be treated like criminals and therefore offends their right to human dignity.
The Chief Justice also said that the amendment would help accelerate the fight against HIV, especially among men who have sex with men, who refuse to participate in testing and treatment programmes because they are stigmatized.
“I am extremely elated . . . Today is really, really important,” Orozco said immediately after the ruling.
We won on all counts. Speechless. Omg. Speechless
— UniBAM Belize (@UNIBAMSupport) August 10, 2016
At a press conference later in the day, he added: “For me and to my community, this document called the Constitution is not toilet paper. It is real, full of ideals and it is our responsibility to demand its enforcement, to demand the ideals that are in this document. Today, the courts acknowledged what I had suspected for decades.”
A photo posted by Katie Numi Usher (@katienumi) on
One of Orozco’s attorneys, Westmin James, contended that the ruling should inspire other countries in the region to make similar decisions.
“In this decision the inherent dignity of each and every human being, regardless of sexual orientation was recognized. Today’s decision shines a powerful light to guide us along the path that we must take towards a more just, tolerant and inclusive Caribbean,” he said.
#OrozcoCase affects all the unnamed persons who are deeply affected by section 53’s discriminatory provisions in Belize.
— Rodjé Malcolm (@Rodje_) August 10, 2016
But the ruling did not go down well with everybody. Religious leaders called it a dishonour to God and warned that it was the beginning of a downward spiral.
“To go against God’s word is to bring destruction on oneself,” President of the National Evangelical Assoc of Belize Pastor Lance Lewis said. “The church that has been sleeping will now have to arise and wake up and get militant in the sense of getting on its knees and standing up for the things of God.”