Metro Weekly

Judge strikes down sodomy law in Trinidad and Tobago

Court will meet again to decide whether to repeal sodomy prohibitions in full and decriminalize homosexuality

The Red House in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – Photo: Anthony Mendenhall.

A judge in Trinidad and Tobago has declared the nation’s laws banning sodomy and consensual homosexual acts are unconstitutional, a ruling that could potentially lead to the complete decriminalization of homosexuality.

Judge Devindra Rampersand of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago ruled on Thursday that Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act are unconstitutional as applied to acts between consenting adults. 

The court will meet again in July to determine whether the sections of the law should be struck down in their entirety or just in part.

LGBTQ activist Jason Jones challenged the colonial-era sodomy law in February 2017 by suing the nation’s attorney general, claiming that the prohibitions on “buggery” and “acts of serious indecency” between two men violate his — and, by extension, other LGBTQ people’s — right to privacy and freedom of expression.

Under the law, anyone convicted of violating Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act could be punished with a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. Trinidad and Tobago has a long history of anti-LGBTQ laws, including one that prohibits LGBTQ people who are not citizens from even entering the country.

Conservative religious groups objected to Jones’ lawsuit, alleging that overturning the sodomy laws would somehow infringe on their right to practice their religious beliefs, which oppose homosexuality. The group T&T Cause, one of the chief groups demanding the court uphold the law, claimed that repealing Sections 13 and 16 would result in “homosexual rights trumping heterosexual rights.”

But Rampersand rejected that logic, noting in his decision that his verdict “is not an assessment or denial of the religious beliefs of anyone,” but rather “a recognition that the beliefs of some, by definition, is not the belief of all, and, in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, all are protected, under the Constitution.”

Jones and other LGBTQ activists celebrated the decision. 

“What I think the judge pointed out was ‘here every creed and race find an equal place,’ and I think we must all come together now and embrace each other in true love and respect,” Jones told Loop News. “This is not about LGBT, this is about the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, and I hope that everyone walks away from this calmly and collectively.”

Kenita Placide, a Caribbean advisor for OutRight Action International, said the human rights organization is hopeful that other countries with laws criminalizing homosexual behavior will follow suit with similar court rulings.

“The judge came down on the right side of history in this case by striking down the buggery law and ruling it as unconstitutional,” Placide said in a statement. “The activism and advocacy will continue in Trinidad and Tobago and across the Caribbean until equality for LGBTIQ people is guaranteed. With positive rulings in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, the movement will carry the momentum to other parts of the region.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com