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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

St. Kitts law criminalizing gay sex found unconstitutional

St. Kitts law criminalizing gay sex found unconstitutional

The top court for nine eastern Caribbean nations and territories has struck down a colonial-era law against homosexual conduct in St. Kitts and Nevis, ruling that sexual orientation is covered by the right to privacy.
LGBTQ activists celebrated the ruling issued Tuesday by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, noting that gay people on the twin-island nation have tended to avoid medical care for fear of losing their job, being assaulted or being prosecuted or stigmatized by health care providers and the government.

The nonprofit St. Kitts & Nevis Alliance for Equality and Jamal Jeffers, a gay man, had sued the small country’s attorney general, arguing that the right to liberty allows people to choose an intimate partner and have consensual sex with whomever and however they want.

They also argued that the right to privacy in the local constitution is not limited to protection against unlawful searches.

The St. Lucia-based court found in their favor, with High Court Judge Trevor Ward writing that the sections of the 1873 law dealing with sodomy impinge “upon the claimants’ right to determine the way they, as individuals, choose to express their sexuality in private with another consenting adult.”

The local government had argued that freedom of expression does not apply to to sexual orientation and contended that moral norms were the bedrock of St. Kitts and Nevis: “Any deviation from these fundamental beliefs opens the floodgates to practices that could alter and compromise survival of the culture and personality of the Federation,” which it said was “established on the belief in Almighty God and the inherent dignity in each individual.”

The law, while rarely invoked, was amended in 2012 to increase the maximum penalty for indecent assault against men from four years to 10 years, including the possibility of hard labor.

The chairman of the Evangelical Association of St. Kitts, which represents around 30 Christian churches, had filed an affidavit supporting the law, arguing that “the moral and religious fiber of the community should influence any interpretation of the Constitution,” the ruling stated.

The court rejected those arguments, writing that “public morality is not synonymous with religious dogma or public opinion.”

“We have achieved history,” said Kenita Placide, executive director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality. “An affirmative decision means a yes to privacy and a yes to freedom of expression.”

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS tweeted its support for the ruling, calling it “great news.”

Previously, courts in Belize, Trinidad & Tobago and Antigua & Barbuda have found such laws unconstitutional. Other cases in Barbados and St. Lucia are pending.
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