In a greatly anticipated Supreme Court oral decision delivered on Wednesday, August 10, the Honorable Chief Justice of Belize, Kenneth Benjamin, ruled that section 53 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws homosexual relations, is inconsistent with the Constitution of Belize.
His decision, which has been applauded by the LGBT and human rights community in Belize in court and outside, came in the constitutional case brought by Caleb Orozco in July 2010. Orozco, a gay man, is the Executive Director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), a policy and advocacy human rights NGO working to advance rights, protection, and enforcement for LGBT persons, which is also an interested party in the case.
After court, Orozco said that it “is a proud day with a history-making judgment for Belize, the country which I am proud to call home. Our courts are there to protect us all. In striking down Section 53, we have reaffirmed ourselves—consistent with the Belize Constitution—as a society built on dignity and respect for all.”
Orozco and UNIBAM argued that section 53 of the Criminal Code violates his constitutional rights, and that of many other Belizeans, to human dignity, privacy and equality before the law because it criminalizes sexual intimacy between consenting adults, even in private. Section 53 makes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature’, which includes anal sex, a crime punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.
In a groundbreaking decision, the Chief Justice ruled that Orozco has legal standing to bring his claim and did not need to show that he was being actually prosecuted under S. 53 to bring a claim, and that the very existence of the law made him an “un-apprehended felon”. The Court also stated that it could not shirk its responsibility in interpreting whether any law is consistent or not with the Constitution and therefore could not simply abdicate its power to the legislature.
Orozco prevailed on all points of his claim. The Chief Justice decided that section 53 is inconsistent with the Constitution of Belize because it violates the right to human dignity, privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination and equality before the law and equal protection of the law. The Court then ‘read down’ S. 53 of the Criminal Code to exclude consensual sexual acts between adults in private.”
The Chief Justice also ruled that the definition of “sex” in S. 16 (3) of the Constitution of Belize includes ‘sexual orientation’, which is consistent with Belize’s international obligations.
After court, President of UNIBAM Simone Hill stated that “this case is an important part of the march forward in Belize and the Caribbean towards dignity and respect for the human rights of all. Decisions throughout Caribbean history that have had advanced human rights have not been decisions arrived at easily or quickly.”
Laura Tucker-Longsworth, chairperson of National AIDS Commission of Belize, says that “section 53 as a national issue because it has implications for HIV prevention and care. Education is key for creating meaningful change in our society.”
Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, the Special Envoy for Women and Children said “It’s a great day for Belize, it’s a great day for human rights; one step closer to dignity and the respect we all deserve.
Belizean indigenous leader and environmentalist Cristina Coc of Maya Leaders Alliance, and awardee of the prestigious Equator prize in December 2015, welcomes the decision today. She commented “We are equally responsible to ensure STATE Accountability to protect the human rights of ALL and not SOME! Therefore, all laws, policies and actions must be consistent with the CONSTITUTION. The Issue of non-discrimination must not be overlooked. No one person, group or community should be discriminated against because of the color of his or her skin, his or her choice of religious belief, his or her ethnicity, or his or her sexual orientation. It is our duty to give effect to and reinforce the highest law of Belize – the CONSTITUTION.”
Westmin James, one of the lawyers and member of the Faculty of Law UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP), which helped to launch the case said: “This decision is a brave step in the recognition of the human rights of all persons in Belize and will go a long way in promoting the human rights and equality of all LGBT persons in the Caribbean.”
“We salute Caleb Orozco’s bold claim to be recognized as equally Belizean. We also want to praise the University of the West Indies Faculty of Law Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) and the several pro bono lawyers in the case,” added Dane Lewis, Chair, CariFLAGS, in the UNIBAM/U-RAP release.
However, some were not pleased by the ruling. The President of the National Evangelical Association of Belize, Pastor Lance Lewis, said Christians must resist the coming changes to the society.
Jamaican gay rights advocate and lawyer, Maurice Tomlinson who is leading the challenge against the Jamaican Law hailed the decision as, “a victory for the Caribbean”.