Metro Weekly

Belize appeals court upholds decision overturning law criminalizing gay sex

2016 high court ruling overturned a law that punished consensual same-sex relations with 10 years in prison

Belize High Court Building – Tbachner, via Wikimedia.

Belize’s court of appeals has upheld a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the country’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law.

Belize’s attorney general appealed the high court’s ruling, but the Court of Appeal upheld it, and, what’s more, endorsed a portion of the decision recognizing protections for sexual orientation, the human rights website Erasing 76 Crimes reports.

The anti-sodomy law, which called for a 10-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex relations, was challenged by Caleb Orozco, a health educator, who argued that it was unconstitutional.

Orozco claimed that the law violated Belize’s constitutional guarantees of personal privacy and human dignity, and infringed not only on his right to live free from discrimination, but on his freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.

He also noted that criminalization of consensual same-sex acts would exacerbate the spread of HIV by discouraging people from getting tested and put LGBTQ people at risk by intimidating them from reporting instances of violence, sexual assault, or discrimination.

Writing for the court, Kenneth Benjamin, the chief justice, found that the anti-sodomy law was indeed unconstitutional and could not be applied to consensual sexual acts conducted in private.

Benjamin also found that Belize’s law prohibiting discrimination based on sex applies to instances where someone has been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

The law’s “symbolic effect is to state that in the eyes of our legal system all gay men are criminals… But the harm imposed by the criminal law is far more than symbolic,” Benjamin wrote. “As a result of the criminal offence, gay men are at risk of arrest, prosecution and conviction of the offence of sodomy simply because they seek to engage in sexual conduct which is part of their experience of being human.”

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

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