SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AFP) – A Caribbean court ruled Tuesday that a law in Antigua and Barbuda criminalizing same-sex sex is unconstitutional.
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court found that “choice of an intimate partner is a personal and personal choice.”
The ruling also stated that the Twin Nation’s 1995 Sexual Offenses Act “violates the right to liberty, protection of the law, freedom of expression, protection of personal privacy, and protection against discrimination on the basis of sex.”
The ruling comes after a gay man working for the Department of Health in Antigua and a local group called Women Against Rape Inc. that the law is unconstitutional.
The rarely used law in part states that two consenting adults convicted of anal sex will face 15 years in prison. If found guilty of serious wrongdoing, they face five years in prison.
The gay man testified that he was persecuted and assaulted, a common complaint throughout the largely conservative Caribbean, where many gays fear for their lives. The man also said that patients refused treatment from him because of his sexual orientation, according to the ruling.
Meanwhile, the anti-rape group said concern about breaches of confidentiality has prevented those in the LGBTQ community from seeking HIV testing or treatment and that they receive hostile treatment by health care providers.
Such laws were common in former British colonies across the Caribbean but have been challenged in recent years. Courts in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago have found such laws unconstitutional, while other cases in the region are still pending.
The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality welcomed Tuesday’s finding, which came in a lawsuit that began in 2020 to challenge what it called “the invasive and unconstitutional remains of colonial law.”
Such laws “legitimize hate speech, discrimination, violence and tears in the fabric of our society,” said the group’s executive director, Kenita Placid.
Consensual intimacy between gay people is still criminalized in seven Caribbean countries, the group said, adding that while penalties are rarely imposed, sentences range from 10 years to life imprisonment.
She said constitutional challenges were still pending in Barbados, Saint Lucia and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Supreme Court Justice Marisa Robertson said in her ruling: “The Constitution is often described as a living instrument that provides significant scope for the realization and enjoyment of human rights for individuals. The very rights espoused and protected by the Document are subject to evolution as concepts, attitudes, and understanding of human rights and dignity evolve over time.”
It was not immediately clear whether the Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda planned to appeal the decision. Government officials could not be reached for comment.