Trinidad and Tobago High Court Declares Anti-Gay Laws Unconstitutional

Trinidad and Tobago’s†High Court has ruled that a colonial-era law that criminalized gay sex goes against basic human rights.

Judge†Devindra Rampersad authored the landmark ruling.†He†found that provisions in the Sexual Offences Act that ban so-called “buggery” and “serious indecency” between two consenting adult males†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.”

Specifically, the court found the Sections (13 and 16) of the Sexual Offences Act violated the country’s promises of a right to privacy, liberty and freedom of expression.

Rampersad went so far as to state that, “it is unfortunate when society in any way values a person or gives a person their identity based on their race, colour, gender, age†or sexual orientation.”

He added that people are more than these characteristics, so to reduce them to these qualities, and to discriminate against them on that basis, is wrong.

Thus, Rampersad argued, the court is compelled to “recognize the dignity of even one citizen whose rights and freedoms have been invalidly taken away.”

This essentially renders the provisions unenforceable. The High Court will reconvene in July to hear whether the provisions it has said are unconstitutional should be repealed in their entirety or whether there is scope to modify the Act in accordance with this ruling.

At this time, homosexuality would be decriminalized. That could mean a big, if slow-moving, change for Trinidad and Tobago.

The Sexual Offences Act prescribes up to 25 years in prison for violating its statutes, but†such sentences are†rare. Instead, the laws serve to create stigma and to foster discrimination across several sectors, including in employment and housing.

Trinidad and Tobago also has a ban in its†Immigration Act†that prevents homosexuals who are not citizens from entering the country. The court will need to look at these various threads.

In the meantime LGBT rights defenders have hailed this moment as one that is critical for Trinidad and Tobago and other nations in the Caribbean.

“The judge came down on the right side of history in this case by striking down the buggery law and ruling it as unconstitutional. The activism and advocacy will continue in Trinidad and Tobago and across the Caribbean until equality for LGBTIQ people is guaranteed.”†Kenita Placide, Caribbean Advisor for human rights group OutRight Action International said in a press release, “With positive rulings in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago, the movement will carry the momentum to other parts of the region.”

The case was brought†by LGBT rights activist Jason Jones in 2017.

Jones, who now resides in the UK after being disowned by his family for coming out, said after the ruling that he hoped that this would not spark violence.

He added, ďIn Trinidad and Tobago we are a multicultural melting pot of a nation and if we can have Hindus live next to Muslims, if we can have Christians live next to Hindus, there is no reason why I canít share the nation also.Ē

The Attorney General has indicated that he will challenge the ruling. This will then send the decision before the Privy Council. Trinidad and Tobago is part of the Commonwealth,†so decisions like this go to judges in London, in the UK.

However, Trinidad and Tobago has previously said it wants to centralize such rulings through the Caribbean Court of Justice. That move has never come to fruition, but it may receive renewed attention now, particularly because of how much more LGBT-accepting the UK is perceived to be.

So, this landmark ruling doesn’t quite settle the gay rights fight in Trinidad and Tobago, and there is still a long way to go before protections like anti-discrimination laws are in place that cover LGBT people.

Still, this ruling has rightly been praised for its strong stance for basic human rights, and†this signals that a brighter future for LGBTs in Trinidad and Tobago, and throughout the Caribbean, may be on the horizon.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

35 comments

DAVID fleming
Dave f4 months ago

Progress

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DAVID fleming
Dave f4 months ago

Tfs

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John P
Past Member 4 months ago

Noted.

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John P
Past Member 4 months ago

Thanks.

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Megan S
Megan S4 months ago

tyfs

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pam w
pam w5 months ago

Another victory of reason over religion!

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D5 months ago

Wonderful news!!! Every human being is entitled to love whomever they choose.

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DAVID fleming
Dave f5 months ago

The world is changing for the better at last .

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Winn A
Winn Adams5 months ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn Adams5 months ago

Good news to be sure.

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