|Stephen Barris, ILGA Programmes Officer|
|Stephen Barris, ILGA Programmes Officer|
Caleb Orozco is about to take on his own government - and a powerful religious lobby - in the Supreme Court of Belize as he seeks to decriminalize homosexual activity in his country.
(Free Press-Release.com) Apr 28, 2013 -- The most significant step in the long journey toward equality for LGBT persons in Belize will take place starting May 7, 2013, in the Supreme Court of Belize. The Chief Justice of Belize will hear a claim from Caleb Orozco that Belize’s “anti-sodomy” law is in violation of his nation’s constitution.
Mr. Orozco, the executive president of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), is seeking to amend Section 53 of the Laws of Belize, which states “every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years”.
Belize (pop. 330,000) is a small ethnically and culturally diverse English-speaking nation in Central America. Best known for its spectacular natural tourist attractions, Belize only achieved independence from Great Britain in 1981. Section 53 of the Laws of Belize is a vestige from the country’s colonial past. Belize is the only nation in Central America that still criminalizes consensual same-sex activity but “anti-buggery” laws do still exist throughout the Caribbean and British Commonwealth.
Mr. Orozco is facing immense public opposition from organizations and individuals openly hostile towards the LGBT community in Belize. On local media and at public meetings his detractors, who insist a successful challenge of Section 53 will lead to “the ruination of Belize”, often refer Mr. Orozco as an Anti-Christ and a traitor. In February 2012, Mr. Orozco suffered a violent physical assault from thugs who hurled anti-gay slurs before attacking him with a beer bottle. Dental surgery was required to repair the damage to his teeth. No arrests were ever made and it appears police never seriously investigated the incident. He has also received death threats and reported the same to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Among those leading the opposition against Caleb Orozco is Scott Stirm, an expatriate American evangelical missionary. Mr. Stirm heads an organization called Belize Action, an alliance of churches committed to the continued criminalization of homosexual activity in Belize. Under his direction, Belize Action has engaged a ceaseless campaign of fear and misinformation intended to smear LGBT persons in Belize. In media appearances, television and radio commercials, and through social media Belize Action constantly suggests that gays are pedophiles, and that the decriminalization of consensual same-sex activity will lead to legalized male rape and the total collapse of social morality. Sadly, these messages seem to be resonating with a large portion of mainstream Belizeans.
Most ironically Scott Stirm, who himself is from Waco, Texas, claims that Mr. Orozco is simply a puppet being used to force a "foreign agenda" on the nation of Belize. Mr. Stirm believes this case is being driven by the administration of US President Obama and former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
Attorney for Caleb Orozco, Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman, flatly refutes such allegations of foreign interference. “First and foremost this case is about the constitutional rights of Caleb Orozco and the thousands of other LGBT persons in Belize”, says Ms. Shoman. “Further, this is not only a gay rights issue but rather a human rights issue. Just because Section 53 is presently only selectively applied to one vulnerable section of the population does not mean it could not be used against any person in Belize engaging in non-procreative sexual activity.” Shoman is part of a legal team comprising several Caribbean attorneys coordinated by the URAP group from the University of the West Indies.
Also opposing the challenge to Section 53 is the Catholic Archdiocese of Belize. The church is listed in the claim as an “interested party” and has retained a team of high profile attorneys to argue their position of why consensual same-sex activity should remain a criminal offence. The Catholic Church is the majority denomination in Belize and operates many of the country’s educational institutions.
Opening arguments begin on May 7and the case is scheduled to conclude on May 10. You can follow live updates of the hearing via twitter using the hashtag #UNIBAM.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
or Lisa M. Shoman SC at email@example.com