Live and Let Live
Thursday, June 23, 2016, 15:04
By G. Michael Reid
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still.
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot
I do not dare to draw a line
between the two, where God has not - Joaquin Miller
News that Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin was poised to deliver judgement in the Caleb Orozco versus the Attorney General of Belize case has sent advocates of both sides scurrying into action. Social media is on fire with comments running the gamut from ridiculous to sublime. It was recently revealed that the CJ would finally deliver said Judgement on Wednesday, July 27th. Anticipation is high and many have drawn forward to the edge of their seats.
The case which has been in the courts since 2010 and which concluded over three years ago in May of 2013 has been awaiting judgement for an inordinate amount of time. Justice has certainly been delayed but it is left to be seen if it will also be denied. This case has drawn international attention and no less than the New York Times in 2015 carried a lengthy story about Orosco, prompting many to believe that it might have been an attempt to put pressure on the CJ to deliver his judgement.
For some background, this all started in July of 2010, when the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) and its executive director Caleb Orosco jointly filed a case in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Belize’s anti-homosexual law. Section 53 of Belize’s Criminal Code reads: “Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with ANY PERSON OR animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years”. Orosco is asking the court to remove the words “any person or” from the law claiming that it “breaches the right to privacy given under sections 3(c) and 14(1) of the Belize Constitution”. Orosco also claims that the law as it now stands, violates his right to equal protection under the law given in section 6(1), freedom of expression under section 12 and non-discrimination under section 16(1). According to Orosco, the law “criminalises and stigmatises consensual sexual activities between gay men, violating their right to give expression to their sexuality”.
If I am allowed a personal opinion, I believe that people ought to be free to be who they want to be and do what they want to as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of other human beings. Interestingly enough, Belize’s original law on this matter read that “Whosoever is convicted of unnatural carnal knowledge of any person, with force or without the consent of such person, shall be liable to imprisonment with hard labour for life, and in the discretion of the Court to flogging”. That law was amended in 1944 to remove the requirements of force or lack of consent and to add the section referring to animals. At the time of Independence in 1981, the established Criminal Code replicated the provision and the law has stood un-amended since.
I am also in favour of amending Section 53 of our law if only to address the section that equates human beings with animals. Apart from being un-Constitutional, it is unethical. Humans are rational beings and as such cannot be classified in the same group as animals. Even those who murder are considered eligible for human rights and I cannot believe that any would consider homosexuality a more serious offense than murder.
Judge Benjamin’s decision will have huge implications for not only Belize but for many other countries both in our region and around the world. At last check, 77 of the world’s countries still have laws that make homosexuality a criminal act and of those, ten allow the death penalty as punishment. Interestingly enough, a 2013 United Nations poll of Caribbean nations found Belize and Suriname to be the two countries most tolerant of homosexuality. In Belize, a survey conducted among a random sampling of people between the ages of 18 and 64 found that 34% consider themselves accepting of homosexuals while another 34% described themselves as tolerant. The remaining 32 percent found homosexuality to be unacceptable. At the other end of the spectrum, Jamaica has been described as the “most homophobic country in the world” primarily because of the high level of violent crime directed at Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgendered (LGBT) people.
Jamaica’s law on the same matter reads very similar to Belize’s law and both seemed to have been modelled after an archaic Indian Penal Code of 1860 which reads, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall be liable to fine”. Compare that to Belize Sec. 53 or to Jamaica’s Sec. 76 which reads, “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years”.
A recently concluded case before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) might give some insight as to where our own case might be headed. In that hearing, Jamaican lawyer and gay activist Maurice Tomlinson (whose case was dismissed by the way) had challenged the laws of both Belize and Trinidad which prohibits homosexuals from entering our countries. Eamon Courtney, lawyer for the Churches of Belize, who had joined the case as interested parties against Orosco, has been arguing on basically the same grounds upon which Tomlinson lost his case; that being that neither of them has been able to point to any specific incident where either law has affected either of them personally or has violated any of their respective rights. This will be very interesting indeed.
Some members of the Church have been very vocal and in particular, Louis Wade and Scott Stirm of Plus tv. In a facebook post of this week, Wade commented that “Christians consider S53 as a GATEKEEPER law that helps to keep at bay the teaching of gender fluidity in Schools, bathroom gender wars, Same sex marriage, and public displays of Gay parades in the streets. The Belize constitution does not mention "sexual orientation" as a criteria for special rights”.
For his part, Stirm has been quoted as saying that, “They are trying to push this issue as a human rights issue. And there is an international/global agenda that is pushing homosexuality and abortion.” Both have suggested that an amendment to Section 53 would spell doom for Belize and put us on a path with to a fate similar to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Maybe we are indeed seeing a fulfilment of prophecy here and maybe this is a case where a “small nation will rise up” and lead the rest of the world toward a period of renewed enlightenment and tolerance. Whatever the case, next month’s judgement is long overdue to label it “landmark” would be a gross understatement. For sure, the world is watching and whichever way it goes, there will be huge repercussions. GOD save Belize!!
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0