In St. Kitts and Nevis, the High Court ruled that laws criminalizing gay sex are unconstitutional; meaning that they are immediately struck from the legal code. The Court upheld the plaintiffs’ claim that Sections 56 and 57 of the Offences Against the Person Act violated the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
The claim against the government of St. Kitts and Nevis was brought by a citizen, Jamal Jeffers, and the St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality, with the support of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality.
“This landmark ruling is an important step forward in ensuring equality and dignity for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in St. Kitts and Nevis and the whole Caribbean,” said Luisa Cabal, UNAIDS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Today, St. Kitts and Nevis joins a growing list of Caribbean nations that have overturned these colonial-era laws that deny people’s human rights and hold back the response to the HIV pandemic. Everyone benefits from decriminalisation.”
Laws that punish consensual same sex relations, in addition to contravening the human rights of LGBT people, are a significant obstacle to improving health outcomes, including in the HIV response. Such laws help to sustain stigma and discrimination against LGBT people and are barriers to LGBT people seeking and receiving healthcare for fear of being punished or detained. Decriminalisation saves and changes lives.
The ruling by the High Court follows a similar High Court decision for Antigua and Barbuda in July. Courts in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago have also repealed sections of their legal codes that criminalized same-sex sexual relations.
But there remain seven countries in the Caribbean that criminalize gay sex between consenting adults, all of them former British colonies. They are Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Caribbean civil society is determined, and Caribbean courts are clear. The clock is ticking on these damaging colonial laws,” said Luisa Cabal. “Countries that have still not taken these laws off the books need to do so as a matter of urgency, for the health and human rights of all their people.”
The Court ruling reduces to 68 the number of countries worldwide criminalizing same-sex sexual relations. Earlier this month, Singapore announced that it is repealing legislation that punished gay sex by a prison sentence of up to two years.