Sat | Dec 7, 2019

Belize trigger for rapid-fire reform

Published:Saturday | August 13, 2016 | 12:00 AM


On August 10, the Commonwealth Caribbean witnessed a watershed moment. Laws criminalising consensual sexual activity between adults were found unconstitutional in the Supreme Court of Belize in the case of Caleb Orozco v Attorney General of Belize. It is true that the possibility of an appeal should temper whatever celebrations are occurring, but the significance of the ruling should not be lost upon us. Emily Shields called it "a blow to fundamentalism" - and indeed it was.

In his ruling, the chief justice of Belize rubbished arguments that because of the reference to the "Supremacy of God" in the preamble of the Constitution, Christian hegemony was allowed to hold sway over the law. He agreed with the claimant that such a reference to God pointed to the origins of law itself rather than signalling that Christianity was supreme in a diverse society like Belize which guaranteed the freedom of conscience and religion.

He went further to explain that "public morality" in the context of the law is more than just a popular view of what is good and what is evil, but more about protecting the public from potential harm. The chief justice saw no potential public harm in the sexual activity of consenting adults in private. Therefore, there was no valid reason for limiting the human rights of Belizean citizens, both LGBT and heterosexual.

The ruling found that the rights to dignity, privacy, freedom of expression and equality were infringed, and rightly so. One's dignity is brought into question if the law criminalises and stigmatises you because you love differently. Your privacy is invaded as your private actions are made public wrongs in the letter of the law. Your bodily expression is unjustly made an offence and your right to be treated as a human being, equal in worth and dignity, is violated when just because you are different, your actions are turned into felonies.

While the legal realities of Belize and Jamaica are different, and this case is not binding but merely persuasive in Jamaican courts, we hope that the recognition of a Supreme Court's duty being the protection of the rights enshrined in a constitution and not to public opinion is not lost upon local judges. The three arms of government are not only responsible to the majority and their opinions but are bound by the rights enshrined in our Constitution and those they have agreed at the international level to protect.

We cannot, as a society, continue to abdicate our duty because we are afraid to anger the masses. If one court in the region can come to a place where they understand their duty in facilitating the equal dispensation of justice, what is stopping the rest of us?


Law Student, Norman Manley Law School