Recently, a law that criminalizes same-sex acts between consenting adults in Antigua and Barbuda has been deemed unconstitutional. More specifically, the country’s high court ruled that “the law contravened constitutionally guaranteed rights to liberty, freedom of expression and protection of personal privacy.”
In other words, this ruling is a significant victory in a country with high rates of homophobia.
How Did This Ruling Come About in Antigua and Barbuda?
The case was initiated by a gay man with two civil rights groups. These groups include Women Against Rape and the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE). In addition, both groups have supported the ruling against the Sexual Offences Act 1995.
What Is the Sexual Offences 1995 Act?
This act came about during British colonial-era legislation. It prohibits “buggery” and “indecency.” After this ruling, there are hopes there will be similar moves in nearby islands.
Women Against Rape President Alexandrina Wong said to the BBC:
“We are very much hoping the Antigua ruling will prompt other legal systems in the Caribbean to review their laws and policies, and how they impact on vulnerable populations.”
How many Caribbean Countries Forbid Same-Sex Relationships and Intimacy?
According to ECADE, seven Caribbean countries have versions of statutes that prohibit same-sex acts, relationships, and intimacy. Even though it is not often enforced, these statutes marginalize and oppress LGBTQ+ people. In addition, they lead to violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.
What is the Punishment for Same-Sex Acts in Antigua and Barbuda?
In Antigua and Barbuda, same-sex acts could result in a 15-year sentence. For Barbados, the penalty can be life imprisonment.
ECADE is continuing to fight to overturn anti-gay legislation in various Caribbean nations. These areas include Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Lucia. However, they are expected to conclude before the end of the year.
Do you know about the Best Countries in Africa for LGBTQ+ Travelers? Check out our article.
How Have Religious Leaders Responded?
Wong said the following:
“Antigua and Barbuda is largely a Christian society, so we expect some discussion coming from that quarter soon but we have a strategic plan in place to respond to it. We must realize society is not static but dynamic. Changes are taking place worldwide – and in the Caribbean as well.”
What are LGBTQ+ rights like in Antigua and Barbuda?
As previously mentioned, LGBTQ+ people in Antigua and Barbuda may encounter legal challenges not faced by their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s ruling determined that the government cannot enforce or introduce discriminatory laws due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, this law currently does not address discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, it does not recognize same-sex unions at all. In other words, households with same-sex couples are not eligible for the same rights as non-LGBTQ+ couples.
How Has the Gay Rights Movement Progressed in these Regions?
In the last few years, there has been an increase in the gay rights movement in the region. There were even Pride parades in Barbados and Guyana.
In November 2018, a century-old ban on “cross-dressing” in Guyana was ruled out. That same year, laws forbidding homosexuality in Trinidad were overturned.
Since the Christian Church is such a prominent part of Caribbean society, the reaction to the ruling can be different.
Aziza Lake, a senator and vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ people in Antigua and Barbuda, said the following about the landmark ruling:
“The reception has not been too bad so far; the reaction from some quarters is to be expected. Homophobia is very pronounced here,” she said. “I just hope people will soon start to have a greater understanding of sexual and gender identity.”
Lake mentioned that many people in the twin island nation had been led to believe that gay people were “sinful.”
She said she hoped the ruling would lead to addressing other “outdated” legislation. These include rape laws that do not criminalize non-consensual sex in a marriage.
Antigua-based attorney Andrew O’Kola was an essential member of the case. He said the court victory would take steps to end discrimination due to sexual orientation.
He said: “Antigua and Barbuda now leads the Eastern Caribbean as having recognized the illegality of punishing a person for who they love. Consensual love should never be a crime.”
How Will This Ruling Help Those With AIDS?
Criminal laws create and sustain public health inequalities. Essentially, they validate stigma, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQ+ people. As a result, they will have a higher risk of contracting HIV and experience barriers in accessing life-saving care.
According to recent statistics:
- Gay men and other LGBTQ+ men who have sex with men living in countries that criminalize same-sex acts and relationships are more than twice as likely to be living with HIV compared to LGBTQ+ people in countries that don’t have these penalties.
- In countries with extreme criminal penalties, these statistics increase to more than five times as likely.
UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said:
“This ruling will save lives and will help advance the end of AIDS. It will benefit everyone in the country, and will inspire countries across the world to take the same vital step forward for health and human rights. By creating a more supportive legal environment we can accelerate progress around reducing stigma and discrimination and ensuring everyone can enjoy lives free of fear, shame and injustice. We congratulate the courageous litigants, civil society organizations and their legal team who have earned this landmark win for equality in Antigua and Barbuda.”
Virgin Atlantic reported that discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community costs up to $4.1 billion annually in 12 English-speaking Caribbean countries.
In addition, earlier this year, travel writer Asher Ferguson put out the LGBTQI+ Travel Safety Index. This index lists the 203 best and worst countries for LGBTQI+ travelers. Unfortunately, Antigua and Barbuda finished 158th on the list, with an F score, the worst result.
Hopefully, with this new ruling being passed, LGBTQ+ life will be much better in Antigua and Barbuda.