Saint Vincent court rejects challenge to colonial-era anti-gay laws

By Thomson Reuters Feb 16, 2024 | 10:34 PM

By Robertson S. Henry

KINGSTOWN (Reuters) – The top court in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines dismissed a challenge to anti-gay laws dating to British colonial rule on Friday, leaving the Caribbean country among a handful that still prescribes harsh criminal penalties against gays and lesbians.

The challenge was brought by Javin Johnson and Sean Macleish, two gay men who had pushed to decriminalize same-sex relations, arguing they were forced to leave the socially conservative country due to their sexual orientation.

Local laws call for up to ten years incarceration for anyone who has same-sex relations, under a 1988 criminal code that upheld laws from the colonial era.

In her ruling, Judge Esco Henry held that Johnson and Macleish did not have the standing to challenge the laws since they do not live in the country. She also described as reasonable the concern that “an un-stemmed deluge of new HIV cases” could overwhelm the health system if the laws were overturned.

The judge further ordered the two men to pay nearly $3,000 to the Attorney General’s office, one of the defendants in the case.

Reuters was not able to reach Johnson or Macleish for comment, and it was not immediately clear if they planned to appeal the ruling to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal.

Activists argue that the laws that criminalize consensual same-sex relations between adults encourage physical abuse and discrimination, even though they are rarely if ever enforced.

Cristian Gonzalez, a Human Rights Watch researcher, criticized the ruling in a post on X, calling it a “sad day for human rights.”

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, an island state of some 110,000 inhabitants, now remains one of six Caribbean nations that still prescribes jail terms for gays and lesbians, including Jamaica, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Guyana and Grenada.

But elsewhere in the Caribbean, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Barbados have decriminalized gay sex in 2022, while Trinidad and Tobago struck down its ban altogether in 2018.

(Reporting by Robertson S. Henry in Kingstown and Sarah Morland in Mexico City; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Raju Gopalakrishnan)