Judge Blocks Law Which Allowed Religion as Reason to Deny Service to LGBT People

This Wednesday, the fight for homosexual equality in Latin America scored a major victory as the Belize Supreme court ruled a law punishing homosexuality unconstitutional. In a lengthy explanation, the court decided that a long-standing anti-sodomy law would no longer criminalize consensual sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex.

The ruling, handed down by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, declared that Section 53 of Belize’s criminal code incompatible with the nation’s constitution. Established when Belize was still the colony of British Honduras, Section 53 had criminalized consenting intercourse between same sex partner, classifying such acts as being, “against the order of nature.” Although the law is not heavily enforced, convictions under Section 53 still rendered a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Declared Unconstitutional

Chief Justice Benjamin declared the law unconstitutional on the basis that the Constitution of Belize protects citizens from government inference into their personal privacy. The Chief Justice added that Belize’s Constitution already established the right of equal treatment of all persons before the law.
 In the ruling, Chief Justice Benjamin explained how the legalization of sexual acts will reduce the criminal stigma that surrounds same-sex partnerships. Also, the ruling is expected to reduce social pressures that often discourage male partners from participating in HIV testing and treatment programs.
 Belize’s premiere LGBT organization, the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) spearheaded the fight for equality in the courts. The lead plaintiff, Caleb Orozco, is the Executive Director of UNIBAM, and the driving force for change in Belize’s LGBT discrimination laws. Now, the organization is championing the passage of anti-discriminatory amendments that will guarantee the future rights of the LGBT community in Belize.

The Trend Continues

This ruling continues the steady trend of Latin American countries slowly changing their perspectives of homosexuality in the last two decades. However, the heavy influence of Roman Catholicism and other cultural considerations have prevented any Central American country from officially recognizing same sex marriage as a legal bond.
 LGBT proponents are looking to continue the fight for equality in another former British colony, Jamaica: The island nation’s anti-sodomy laws are currently facing legal challenges in the court system from LGBT organizations. In addition, 72 other countries still possess similarly discriminating laws, including India, Kenya, and Barbados.
 The future of same-sex partnership and the possible recognition of marriage on an international level continues to pose major questions to countries going forward. However, LGBT proponents hope that a series of smaller legal victories may reduce legal discrimination against citizens in homosexual relationships.

Jay Sekulow is the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice.