Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda rules gay sex ban ‘unconstitutional’

Colonial laws in Antigua and Barbuda that criminalise LGBTQ+ people have been ruled unconstitutional by a judge.

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Antigua and Barbuda have stated that criminalisation of gay sex is unconstitutional. (Credit: Matthew Lewis-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

 

 

On Tuesday (5 July), the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda ruled that laws against “buggery” and “serious indecency” were discriminatory to LGBTQ+ people.

Sections 12 and 15 of the Sexual Offences Act of 1995 were inherited from British colonial rule, and criminalised penetrative sex and other sexual acts between consenting adults, respectively.

Those found guilty could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.

The court found that criminalising intimate relationships between consenting adults was in contravention of the Antiguan constitutional rights to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of expression, protection of personal privacy and protection from discrimination on the basis of sex – which the court found includes sexual orientation.

The court stated that “the right to privacy extends beyond the right to be left alone, and includes the concept of dignity of the individual, aspects of physical and social identity and the right to develop and establish relationships with other human beings”.

The ruling came after a case filed by David Orden, a gay Antiguan man, along with local organisation, Women Against Rape, and the regional LGBT+ umbrella organisation, the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE).

Orden stated in court that he had been bullied, beaten and harassed by homophobes, but that the police refused to investigate.

He told the court that police asked him “why are you gay?” and “why did you choose this lifestyle?”.

Other countries in the Caribbean are expected to follow suit. (Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Women Against Rape told the court that homophobia stemming from the law went deeper yet.

In testimony, a representative told the court that many LGBTQ+ people are hesitant to receive treatment for HIV as breaches of confidentiality are a regular occurrence and they fear hostile treatment.

They reported that they had found a “homophobic atmosphere” in clinics there, and said “violence and discrimination can negatively affected the mental health of LGBT members”.

Executive director of ECADE, Kenita Placide, celebrated the ruling, saying: “The process of litigation is important, as it underscores how these laws contribute to the stigmatisation of LGBTQI people, how they legitimise hate speech, discrimination and violence and tears at the fabric of our society.

“Our governments have sworn to protect and uphold the rights of all and act in a manner that promotes the prosperity and well-being of all. This judgment is in keeping with this commitment.”

Téa Braun, chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust, said: “From legal preparations commencing in 2015 through to yesterday’s historic judgment, this victory has been seven years in the making.

“While legal victories take time, this ruling proves once again that perseverance and collaboration can move mountains. After almost 150 years on the statute books, devastating countless LGBT lives in their wake, these colonial legacy laws have finally found their rightful place in the history books.

Antigua and Barbuda is now the third country in the Caribbean to decriminalise homosexuality through the courts.

Constitutional challenges are pending in Barbados, St Lucia, and St Kitts and Nevis.

Braun added: “This is a pivotal victory for LGBT people in Antigua and Barbuda, thousands of whom can now look to a future free from the stigma of criminalisation.”

 

 

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