Local Church Organizations urge the Government to appeal Section 53
Friday, September 2nd, 2016
The decision from the Government of Belize (GOB), not to appeal the recent ruling by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin which overturned Belize’s sodomy law, or Section 53 of the Criminal Code, has disappointed the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) and the Roman Catholic Church. In separate letters addressed to GOB, both religious organizations urged Prime Minister Dean Barrow to appeal the decision for the well-being of the future generations of Belize.
The NEAB claims to represent 280 churches in Belize and even though they have not formally said that they will appeal the court ruling, they mobilized their members for what they called a prayer patrol around the National Assembly and government administration buildings in the City of Belmopan. The first protest was organized on Tuesday, August 23rd followed by a second one on Tuesday, August 30th, while Cabinet was in session.
According to NEAB President, Pastor Lance Lewis, they want to express that the church on a whole is not pleased with the ruling of Chief Justice Benjamin. Additionally, they are seeking to call on Prime Minister Barrow to recall the decision not to appeal the ruling that the court made. “This is a serious thing,” said Lewis. “The Chief Justice’s ruling goes against what the church believes.”
NEAB has been interested in the case brought against GOB by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) rights activist, Caleb Orozco from the get-go. When the court ruled in Orozco’s favour, it was also found that Belize is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This is the portion of the Belize Constitution which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and also extends to one’s sexual preference.
Pastor Lewis believes that legally, there is a window of opportunity if the Government appeals before 21 days of the ruling. The ruling was passed on August 10th, thus, by the end of the month the appeal should have taken place.
However, on Wednesday, August 17th, GOB announced that they were not going to appeal the amendment on Section 53. Attorney General and Minister of Natural Resources Vanessa Retreage gave a statement on behalf of the Government. “The Government of Belize will not tolerate hate speech or actions against other people due to differences,” said Retreage. According to her, nothing was found in the decision that is to them, appeal-able, and after seeking advice, it was decided not to proceed with an appeal. Barrow also commented that the Cabinet endorsed the Chief Justice’s ruling and announced that interested parties of affected individuals could seek leave to appeal.
Despite claims from NEAB that in the first hours after the ruling, 11 denominational overseers and 132 national pastors responded by text expressing support in requesting the Government to appeal the decision, the Government also has received congratulatory comments for not appealing.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), congratulated and applauded Belize for not challenging the court ruling regarding the amendment on the sodomy law. The organization stated that by striking down Section 53, which made consensual gay sex punishable by imprisonment up to 10 years, now Belize is in a much better position to fight the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. “This ruling removes a key stumbling block to gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men accessing HIV testing and treatment services,” the organization said in their statement.
In addition, UNAIDS Director of the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Support Team, Dr. Cesar Nuñez, stated that the decision by Belize’s high court reflects a shift in public opinion in Belize. According to Nuñez, this is a great step away from the traditional adamant stance of discrimination against homosexuals. “The ruling of the Belize High Court echoes the widespread public opinion in Belize that people should be treated with dignity and equality, regardless of who they love,” said Nuñez.
In the meantime, Orozco invited the churches to review their own closets for their moral concerns. “Remember that their closet is as wide open as mine when they talk about moral grounds,” said Orozco. He applauded the Government’s decision not to appeal, which according to him reflects a responsible Government who reacts constructively to the needs of its citizens.
However, NEAB said that they will exhaust every option that they possibly can to challenge the court’s decision. NEAB’s main concern now is that the LGBT community will likely move to challenge Belize’s Marriage Act in order to establish same-sex marriages in Belize, based on the same argument. If it is denied to them, according to NEAB, they would use the same stand and claim that their rights to protection from discrimination based on their sexual preference are being violated. They believe that the court has given the LGBT community a blank cheque and if nothing is done, the future implications for Belize could be devastating.
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