On 10 August 2016, the Supreme Court of Belize declared Section 53 of the country’s Criminal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality, as unconstitutional. In July 2010, the constitutional challenge against Section 53 was brought forth by Executive Director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) Caleb Orozco. According to the organization’s website, “UNIBAM is the oldest and only LGBT led policy and advocacy non-governmental organization in Belize.”
In handing down his ruling, Honourable Chief Justice of Belize Kenneth Benjamin agreed that Section 53 violates Orozco’s constitutional right to human dignity, right to privacy, freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression, and more importantly his right to equal protection under the law.
Mr Orozco’s case has received tremendous support from the following interested parties: the University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP), the Human Dignity Trust, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, and the International Commission of Jurist. It comes as no surprise that interested parties opposing Mr Orozco’s case include the Belize Church of England Corporate Body, the Roman Catholic Church of Belize, and the Belize Evangelical Association of Churches.
The Chief Justice emphasised that his role in the proceedings was to defend the constitution of Belize, and though the Supreme Court may consider public held beliefs, notably religious beliefs, his place was not to uphold moral vindications.
In response to the ruling, Orozco had this to say, “The decision today is deeply fulfilling, I am elated for myself, but more so for all of LGBTIQ people in Belize. The Supreme Court set a historic precedent in the country, and in the Caribbean more widely, by upholding the dignity and equality of all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation. Though I know much has yet to be done to change attitudes in my country, this is a momentous step, and I could not be more proud.”
GrenCHAP congratulates Caleb Orozco and his entire legal team for exhibiting fearlessness in the face of indignation. Project Coordinator, KizzyAnn Abraham had this to say, “This is a triumphant win for LGBT human rights in our region, and the start of a domino effect. Already, cases have been brought forth in Jamaica and Guyana challenging the constitutionality of the anti-sodomy law and cross dressing law respectively. Furthermore, this ruling reiterates the urgent need for policy makers and religious figures to keep abreast of scientific research that validates the lived experiences of LGBT persons, and the human rights implications of state sanctioned stigma and discrimination.”
According to UNAIDS Caribbean, “This development comes at a critical juncture in the HIV response. Through the Sustainable Development Goals the world has committed to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. In order to do so, member states have pledged to ensure that no one is left behind.” Furthermore, “The Court’s decision means that consensual, private sex acts between adults — regardless of sex or sexual orientation — are no longer illegal in Belize. This development reinforces human rights and supports access to HIV services.”