Trinidad and Tobago court says laws barring gay sex are unconstitutional

Members of the LGBT community demonstrate outside the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Andrea de Silva

Gay sex between consenting men in Trinidad and Tobago could soon be decriminalised following a court judgment that campaigners said might spark similar decisions elsewhere in the Caribbean.

“The judge came down on the right side of history in this case by striking down the buggery law and ruling it as unconstitutional,” said Kenita Placide, Caribbean advisor for rights group OutRight Action International, in a statement.

In his ruling on Thursday, judge Devindra Rampersad said sections of the Sexual Offences Act, which prohibit “buggery” and “serious indecency” between two men, criminalised consensual same-sex activity between adults, and were unconstitutional.

The decision followed a similar ruling in Belize in 2016.

“With positive rulings in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, the movement will carry the momentum to other parts of the region,” she said.

A final judgment on how to deal with the sections of the act is expected in July, rights groups and local media said.

The case was brought in 2017 by Jason Jones, an activist for LGBT issues, who lives in Britain but was born in Trinidad and Tobago.

In an online campaign, he said he wanted to challenge laws inherited while the country was under British rule.

Trinidad and Tobago became a republic in 1976. Last year, it was one of five countries which amended its laws to ban child marriage.

But it has no laws protecting LGBT people, and rights groups say many LGBT people fear being open about their views or orientation. Being convicted of buggery carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, according to the law.

Thursday’s ruling was welcomed outside the courthouse by large crowds wearing rainbow outfits and singing the national anthem. Earlier this week, hundreds of people gathered outside parliament to show support for the case.

Colin Robinson, director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, warned there was a long way to go.

“I don’t want to be alarmist, but I expect that this will take time for people to accept, and we hope the violence is minimal,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Trinidad and Tobago.

The group, which works for justice on sex and gender issues, said it expected the government would appeal the ruling.

In February, the nearby island of Bermuda became the world’s first nation to reverse a law allowing same-sex marriage. LGBT activists feared that would set a dangerous precedent for gay rights and reverberate far beyond the region.

-Serena Chaudhry, Emma Farge, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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