Barbados High Court decriminalizes gay sex

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In a landmark ruling, the Barbados High Court yesterday handed down an oral ruling decriminalizing consensual same-sex relationships. The written judgment will be issued at a later stage.

Barbados becomes the third Eastern Caribbean country in 2022 to strike down discriminatory legal provisions and decriminalize gay sex, after Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Barbados’ Sexual Offenses Act 1992 sanctioned “sodomy” up to life imprisonment and “gross indecency” up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Both crimes were believed to criminalize consensual same-sex conduct and were relics of British colonial law.

While laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy in the Caribbean are rarely enforced, they are broad in scope, vaguely worded, and serve to legitimize prejudice and hostility against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. A 2018 Human Rights Watch report documented discrimination, violence and prejudice against LGBT people in seven island nations in the Eastern Caribbean, including Barbados, which criminalized gay sex.

Barbados’ ruling is the result of efforts by local and regional civil society to challenge anti-LGBT legislation in the Eastern Caribbean region, led in part by the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE) group.

In the English-speaking Caribbean, the Supreme Court of Belize in 2016 was the first to find laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy unconstitutional. The Trinidad and Tobago High Court followed suit in 2018.

However, six Caribbean countries still have versions of “sodomy” and “gross indecency” laws on the books: Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – outliers in the Western Hemisphere, where most Some countries have decriminalized same-sex conduct. At least 66 countries around the world still criminalize gay sex.

In a December 2020 decision, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Jamaica to repeal laws banning gay sex. The Organization of American States also urged all countries to “prevent, punish, and eradicate” discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The criminalization of same-sex intimacy violates international norms and standards, including the human rights to privacy and to protection from arbitrary and unlawful interference with or attacks on one’s private and family life, reputation or dignity. The UN’s independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity looked into the matter further.

The Barbados court did the right thing. Now is the time for other governments to respect people’s right to privacy and strike down discriminatory privacy laws.

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