8 things to know about the buggery law ruling
On Thursday, a ruling by High Court Justice Devindra Rampersad determined Trinidad and Tobago's buggery laws are unconstitutional, null and void. In so doing, Rampersad paved the way for the controversial Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act to be changed or entirely struck off the law books of T&T.
But many are still wondering what exactly does the ruling mean and what changes now that the judgement has been made?
Here are 8 things you should know about the historic judgement:
1 - Who is Jason Jones and what did he do?
Jason Jones is a 54-year-old Trinidad-born gay and human rights activist who also holds British citizenship. Jones, who is openly gay, filed a lawsuit against the government of Trinidad and Tobago challenging two specific provisions of the Sexual Offence Act, namely Sections 13 and 16, which criminalise "buggery" and “serious indecency”. Jones said these laws infringe upon his rights as a gay man.
2 - What is buggery?
Buggery, also called sodomy, is defined as anal intercourse. The term can refer to anal intercourse between two males or between a male and a female. The legal definition of buggery also includes bestiality or intercourse with an animal.
3 - What does the law state?
Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act refers specifically to buggery. Section 16 refers to serious indecency:
13(1). A person who commits the offence of buggery is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 25 years. (2) In this section 'buggery' means sexual intercourse per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person.
16 (1). A person who commits an act of serious indecency on or towards another is liable on conviction to imprisonment for five years.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to an act of serious indecency committed in private between (a) a husband and his wife; (b) a male person and a female person each of whom is sixteen years of age or more, both of whom consent to the commission of the act; or (c) persons to whom section 20(1) and (2) and (3) of the Children Act apply.
(3) An act of serious indecency is an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.
4- What does the judgement state?
In his ruling, Justice Devindra Rampersad acknowledged the submission and objections made by religious groups but said the religious beliefs of some are not held by all. He said all citizens are entitled to be protected under the Constitution. He ruled that the laws are unconstitutional, null and void.
Read the full judgement here:
5 - No final determination has yet been made
Although Justice Rampersad ruled that the laws were unconstitutional, he did not make any recommendation on how the laws should be treated with. The judgement does not mean automatic striking down of the laws and they remain in place currently. The State has announced its decision to appeal the ruling.
6 - Gay marriage has not been legalised
The challenge brought by human rights activist Jason Jones did not seek to legalise gay marriage. Jones challenged the constitutionality of Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act which criminalises anal sex between consenting adults. Should the laws be struck down, it does not equate to the legalisation of gay marriage.
7 - Beastialty is not legal
While the term "buggery" also refers to sex with an animal, the definition in Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act refers only to sexual intercourse between male and female humans. Jones' challenge referred to anal sex between consenting adults. He did not seek to have beastiality legalised.
8 - It has been done before
While Justice Rampersad's ruling is historic for Trinidad and Tobago, another Caricom country completely removed its sodomy laws in 2016. In Belize's sodomy laws were struck down six years after a case was filed by Caleb Orozco, the executive director of the United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), an LGBT rights group. In his ruling, Belizean Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin said the laws violated constitutional rights to dignity, privacy, equality, and freedom from gender discrimination. Jamaican gay rights activist and attorney Maurice Tomlinson is challenging similar laws in Jamaica.
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