LGBT rights in Belize

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LGBT rights in Belize
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 2016[1]
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation protection nationwide[2]
Family rights

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Belize face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT citizens. Same-sex sexual activity was illegal in Belize until 2016, when the Supreme Court declared Belize's anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.

Belize also has a law prohibiting foreign homosexuals from entering the country, although the law has never been enforced.[3] However, the court ruling striking down the sodomy law also stated that the Constitution barred discrimination based on one's sexual orientation. The Supreme Court ruling is currently being appealed to the Caribbean Court of Justice.[4]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

According to Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code, "Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person ... shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years."[5] It was argued in the challenge to Section 53 of the Criminal Code that homosexuality per se is not illegal, but any sexual act which is not the "sexual congress of a phallus inserted into a vagina" is illegal, including oral sex, anal sex between heterosexual or homosexual persons, masturbation, etc.[6] Section 53 was overturned on 10 August 2016 as a violation of the Constitution of Belize.[1]

While sodomy bans in The Bahamas were removed by the legislature in 1991 and bans in the British Overseas Territories were overturned in 2000 by a UK Order in Council, Belize's sodomy ban was the first one in a former British colony in the Caribbean to be judicially overturned.[7][8] It was also the last sodomy ban in Central America to be struck down.[9]

Caleb Orozco v. Attorney General of Belize and others[edit]

In September 2010, the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM) and its executive director Caleb Orozco jointly filed a case in the Supreme Court of Judicature of Belize challenging the constitutionality of Belize's anti-sodomy law with the support of the International Commission of Jurists, the Commonwealth Lawyers' Association, and the Human Dignity Trust.

Counsel for the Church Interested Parties (CIP) (consisting of the Roman Catholic Church, the Belize Church of England Corporate Body, and the Evangelical Association of Churches) argued in January 2012 that UNIBAM had no standing to bring the case because, as an organization, it has no constitutionally guaranteed rights. Relying on Section 20 of the Belize Constitution, the court sided with CIP on 27 April 2012 and struck out UNIBAM as a claimant.[10] In December 2012, Justice Arana granted UNIBAM "interested party" status, which is the same status given to CIP.[11]

The case was heard by the Supreme Court of Judicature in May 2013,[12] amid violence and death threats received by LGBT activists.[13] On 10 August 2016, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin ruled that Section 53 of the Criminal Code of Belize contravened constitutional protections of equality, dignity and personal privacy.[14][1] Orozco prevailed on all points in the decision, in which Benjamin reiterated that the court was required to make a legal ruling rather than a moral judgment. Benjamin ordered that the Criminal Code be amended with the insertion of the phrase "This section shall not apply to consensual sexual acts between adults."[15][16] He went on to state that the Belizean Constitution must be consistent with international interpretations and clarified that "sex" as mentioned in Section 16(3) of the Constitution, includes sexual orientation.[17]

On 17 August 2016, the Government announced they would not appeal the ruling to the Caribbean Court of Justice, but that other interested parties may appeal.[18] After meeting with religious leaders on September 9, the government reversed course and announced they would make a partial appeal of the ruling, specifically appealing the declaration that the Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.[4] Interested parties filed to appeal the ruling on September 16.[19] On 4 October 2016, the National Evangelical Association of Belize's appeal of the case was rejected by the Chief Justice because the organization was not an original interested party to the case.[20]

Church opposition to decriminalization[edit]

In response to the case filed by UNIBAM and Caleb Orozco, Catholic and the Protestant churches reacted negatively, saying that same-sex marriage would be next.[21][22] On 3 December 2011, the Council of Churches organized a "Take a Stand" rally to oppose the UNIBAM case.[23]

The Belizean Council of Churches held a "Belize Action/Family Forum" rally on 23 November 2011 to express its opposition to decriminalization as part of "an orchestrated plan of demonic darkness to dethrone God from our Constitution and open massive gateways to demonic influence and destruction that will affect generation after generation to come."[21][24]

Immigration ban[edit]

Under Section 5(1) of the Immigration Act, "[T]he following persons are prohibited immigrants – ... (e) any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour".[25]

A challenge by Jamaican activist Maurice Tomlinson was filed in 2013 to the immigration ban in both Trinidad and Tobago and Belize. Tomlinson asked Jamaica, his home country, to insist that the travel bans of these countries be removed based on CARICOM provisions for free movement of citizens of member countries. Jamaica refused, and Tomlinson petitioned the Caribbean Court of Justice asking leave to file the case with them directly.[26] In May, 2014, Tomlinson was granted leave to challenge the immigration laws of both countries.[27] In October, 2014, CARICOM joined the case as an interested party supporting Tomlinson's arguments.[28] On 18 March, 2015, the challenge was heard[29] with allegations that the immigration bans abridge the rights of free movement for Caribbean citizens contained in the Treaty of Chaguaramas.[30] On 10 June 2016, the CCJ ruled that neither Trinidad and Tobago nor Belize had violated Tomlinson's freedom of movement, dismissing his case. As clarification, the judgment noted that neither state can ban homosexuals from CARICOM countries from entering their countries due to their treaty obligations, "notwithstanding their laws that ban the entry of gays".[31]

Discrimination protections[edit]

The U.S. Department of State's 2011 human rights report found that:

The law does not protect sexual orientation or gender identity. [...] The extent [in 2011] of discrimination based on sexual orientation was difficult to ascertain due to lack of reporting instances of discrimination through official channels. United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), the country's sole lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization, reported that continuing harassment and insults by the general public and police affected its activities, but its members were reluctant to file complaints. There were no gay pride marches organized during the year due to UNIBAM membership concerns over the public's possible adverse reaction.[32]

On 10 August 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 53 of the Belizean Criminal Code is unconstitutional (see above). Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin also clarified that "sex" as mentioned in Section 16(3) of the Constitution, includes sexual orientation. Therefore, the Constitution of Belize prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[2]

In 1996, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dean Barrow, (who would later become Prime Minister), signed a UN multi-lateral treaty known as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In 1993, the language of the treaty was interpreted by the UN Commission on Human Rights to include sexual preference in the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex. According to Chief Justice Benjamin, by signing the treaty, Belize tacitly agreed to this interpretation, and the Constitution of Belize must be interpreted in the same light.[2]

Public opinion[edit]

In 2013, UNAIDS conducted a survey of 773 Belizeans, ages 18 to 64. The survey found that 34% consider themselves accepting of homosexuals, while another 34% consider themselves tolerant of homosexuals.[33][34] Of all the Caribbean countries that were polled, Belize and Suriname had the highest percentage of acceptance for homosexuals.[34]

Pressure from the United States[edit]

In December 2011, United States President Barack Obama criticised nations that persecute homosexuals.[35] In response, Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow reiterated that Belize would not change its laws.[36] He argued that the issue is one for Belize to deal with and if the U.S. wanted to punish states by removing foreign aid for continuing such practice, then "they will have to cut off their aid".[36]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 2016)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2016)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2016)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2016)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2016)
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Humes, Aaron (10 August 2016). "Supreme Court rules Section 53 unconstitutional". Belize City, Belize: Breaking Belize News. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Ramos, Adele (17 August 2016). ""Sex" redefined 20 years ago, and Belizeans didn't know it!". Belize City, Belize: Amandala. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016. Retrieved 18 August 2016. 
  3. ^ "Gay Man Maurice Tomlinson Goes To The CCJ About Belize's Discriminatory Immigration Law". 7 News Belize. March 18, 2015. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "GOB will have limited appeal to CJ's ruling on Section 53 - The Guardian Newspaper". The Guardian. Belize. 15 September 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  5. ^ Belize Criminal Code
  6. ^ Stewart, Colin (May 7, 2013). "Belize challenge to anti-gay law, 140 characters at a time". Erasing 76 Crimes. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Lavers, Michael K. (August 10, 2016). "Belize's top court strikes down sodomy law". Washington, D. C.: The Washington Blade. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  8. ^ Trumbach, Tina (11 August 2016). "Cayman same-sex silence continues as Belize overturns anti-gay law". George Town, Grand Cayman: The Cayman Reporter. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  9. ^ Mandell, Sean (10 August 2016). "Belize Supreme Court Strikes Down Last Remaining Gay Sex Ban in Central America". Towleroad. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  10. ^ "Supreme Court Claim No 668 of 2010 'Caleb Orozco and UNIBAM v. Attorney General of Belize'" (PDF). Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  11. ^ "UNIBAM regains ground in court", 7 News Belize, 5 December 2012
  12. ^ Global Post. Gay in Belize? You're breaking the law. Still.. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  13. ^ The Guardian. Belize gay rights campaigner is facing more death threats, says lawyer. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  14. ^ Caleb Orozco v Attorney General of Belize and others (10 August 2016). Text
  15. ^ Ring, Trudy (10 August 2016). "Belize High Court Strikes Down Sodomy Law". The Advocate. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  16. ^ "UNIBAM Grand Slam: Gay Sex Law Struck Out". Belize City, Belize: 7 News Belize. 10 August 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  17. ^ Littauer, Dan (10 August 2016). "Love wins! Belize anti-gay law struck down". Scotland: KaleidoScot. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  18. ^ "BREAKING: GOB will not appeal Section 53 decision". Belize City, Belize: Breaking Belize News. 17 August 2016. Archived from the original on 17 August 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  19. ^ "Evangelical Churches Appeal Section 53 Judgment". Belize City, Belize: 7 News Belize. 16 September 2016. Archived from the original on 17 September 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  20. ^ "Evangelical Application for Appeal Dismiss, They Must Pay Caleb's Costs". Belize City, Belize: 7 News Belize. 4 October 2016. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2016. 
  21. ^ a b "A long fight to decriminalize homosexuality", Latinamerica Press, authored by Louisa Reynolds, 21 December 2011
  22. ^ Bowcott, Owen (November 16, 2011). "Global campaign to decriminalise homosexuality to kick off in Belize court". The Guardian. London. 
  23. ^ "Christians 'Take a Stand' Against UNIBAM", 7 News Belize, reported by Jules Vasquez, 5 December 2011
  24. ^ Kelly, Stacey (25 November 2011). "Decriminalizing homosexuality will have dire ripple effects: churches". Amandala. Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  25. ^ Belize Immigration Act
  26. ^ Mills, Suzanne (August 11, 2013). "Visibility is liberty". Trinidad & Tobago: Newsday. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  27. ^ Jones, Patrick E. (May 8, 2014). "CCJ grants leave to challenge Belize's Immigration Act". Belize: Breaking Belize News. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  28. ^ Cayetano, Isani (October 29, 2014). "CARICOM Joins Gay Activist Maurice Tomlinson In Suit Against Belize & Trinidad". Belize City, Belize: News 5. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  29. ^ Wee, Darren (19 March 2015). "Landmark case challenges anti-gay laws in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago". London, England: Gay Star News. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  30. ^ Humes, Aaron (March 18, 2015). "CCJ hearings end in the case of Maurice Tomlinson". Belize: Breaking Belize News. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  31. ^ "Gay rights activist loses case against Belize at the CCJ". Belize City, Belize: El Guardian. 16 June 2016. Archived from the original on 18 June 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  32. ^ 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Belize, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, page 16
  33. ^ "Polling Sexual Perceptions". 7 News Belize. April 17, 2015. Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  34. ^ a b Humes, Aaron (April 17, 2015). "UNAIDS surveys: Belizeans more accepting of LGBT; want more sex education in schools". Breaking Belize News. Belize Media Group. Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  35. ^ "Presidential Memorandum -- International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons"
  36. ^ a b "Belize Continues to Deny Fundamental Human Rights of Sexual Minorities", Council on Hemispheric Affairs, authored by Robert Works, 17 January 2012

External links[edit]