Trinidad and Tobago, the twin-island Caribbean country just off of Venezuela’s northeastern coast, just received a ruling from its High Court declaring its national anti-buggery law as unconstitutional. Although it will be three months before the court formally releases its full ruling, the Trinidad buggery ruling could help overturn similar homophobic laws in 37 other former British colonies.
The case began back in February 2017 when LGBTQ activist Jason Jones filed a federal lawsuit against the government over Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act, a law which declares anyone “who commits buggery is guilty of an offense.” Jones argued that the law violated his right to privacy, liberty and freedom of expression and were thus unconstitutional.
The law itself stems from British colonial era anti-buggery laws. Trinidad and Tobago incorporated many of Britain’s colonial laws when it overthrew British rule and declared itself a Republic in 1976. The nation’s parliament rewrote the Sexual Offenses Act in 1986, doubling the maximum prison sentence for sodomy between consenting adults to 10 years — they then raised it to a 25 year sentence in 2000.
The nation’s anti-LGBTQ activists support the anti-buggery laws as a way to prevent same-sex marriage.
Here is video of LGBT activists celebrating the Tobago and Trinidad buggery ruling:
Today, Justice Devindra Rampersad ruled that Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act are “unconstitutional, illegal, null, void, invalid and are of no effect to the extent that these laws criminalize any acts constituting consensual sexual conduct between adults.”
According to the country’s LGBTQ organization, The Silver Lining Foundation, the court will now “hear the parties on whether the offending sections should be struck down in their entirety along with the issue of costs.” However, the website looptt.com reported that the country’s attorney general has indicated that the state will appeal the ruling.
Jones said that he’s disappointed that he received no assistance in his case from neither the British government nor any British non-governmental organizations.
“Total cowardice,” he told The Guardian. “This was a real chance to push the issue, especially as the vile laws were bequeathed to us by the Brits. Out of 53 member states, 37 criminalize LGBT people using British colonial era laws. There should never be diplomacy when there are human rights at stake.”
The ruling could embolden other LGBTQ Caribbean activists to take heed and file challenges against similar anti-buggery laws, especially since the laws are commonly used to target same-sex sexual encounters against consenting adults and add to a general societal atmosphere of homophobia.
Update (Sept. 21, 2018): The court has decided not to strike down the laws but merely to say that “consenting adults of the same sex cannot be prosecuted for engaging in sexual acts.” As promised, the Attorney General will appeal the decision to the UK-based Privy Council, the country’s highest court.