With the approach of a May 7 constitutional challenge to Belize’s anti-gay law, Section 53, anti-homosexuality forces have launched a campaign of hate and fear. In this commentary, naturalized Belizean citizen Brent Toombs argues that the anti-gay organization Belize Action is even worse than the anti-gay protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in the United States. Toombs is a supporter of the Belize LGBT rights group United Belize Advocacy Movement (Unibam) who describes himself as “heterosexual by birth but a Belizean by choice.”
It’s one of the most iconic images of intolerance. So-called Christians from the Westboro Baptist Church in the USA, showing up uninvited at funerals of military men and women, somehow trying to suggest that God is punishing America for ever-increasing tolerance and equality for LGBT people in that country.
It would be too easy to simply compare Belize Action, our own local militia of faith-warriors, with Westboro Baptist and leave it at that. That’s because if you look closely at the agendas of each organization, Belize Action is much more sinister and dangerous.
In the USA, nearly everyone dismisses the Westboro folks as a bunch of hateful lunatics. Sure, they still get some media coverage, but only because they provide great colour for the news cameras. No respected journalist actually sits down with Westboro leader Fred Phelps and allows him to spew his homophobic hate speech unchallenged. In fact no respectable journalist gives Phelps any attention anymore.
Meanwhile, in Belize the leaders of Belize Action enjoy audiences with esteemed members of our press who never seem to find it appropriate to interrupt the stream of whatever latest red herring is being spun and demand an answer to the most important question … the question that is at the center of this entire debate over Section 53. How can you support a law that can send men to prison for 10 years for engaging in consensual same-sex activity?
Right there, that is why I believe Belize Action is much more destructive than Westboro Baptist could ever hope to be. Belize Action, a so-called Christian organization that claims to be rooted in the principles of Jesus Christ Himself, is fighting an all out Holy War in order to keep a law that criminalizes people for private, consensual sexual activity! Even in Fred Phelps’ best wet dream he could never imagine criminalizing homosexuality in the United States of America.
Meanwhile here in Belize – despite our noble constitution clearly defining our inalienable rights and freedoms – Belize Action feels that their own brand of faith should trump the constitution. If you have been listening closely to their numerous arguments, you would have noticed that not once have they suggested that S.53 is in keeping with the constitution of Belize. Instead, they argue that S.53 needs to stay because it is a “gatekeeper” that may prevent further social evolution such as marriage equality and LGBT adoption.
Belize Action wants to ignore our very constitution in order to criminalize a specific community of Belizeans! Even the most hate-filled homophobe from Westboro would likely agree that is simply going too far.
Regardless if homosexuality is something you personally feel is wrong or sinful, you must still respect that Belize is built on the rights and freedoms enshrined in our constitution. If we acquiesce to Belize Action’s demands for the continued criminalization of consensual sexual activity, what message would we be sending to people who choose to ignore the sacred document that defines the collective values we share as a nation? We would be signaling that Belize is not the constitutional democracy we believed it to be. We would be surrendering our own right to self-determination to a group of men who wish to control our country, our minds, and our sexuality within their own religious theocracy.
Fortunately the Supreme Court of Belize is being tasked to view the challenge to Section 53 only in the light of the constitution. The churches have been making all sorts of wild, mostly unsubstantiated claims about the potential ruination and moral decay that will follow any amendment to our “unnatural crimes” law. But I have faith in the Chief Justice to hear all arguments soberly and without being distracted by the homophobic hyperbole being presented as justification for placing an asterisk in the preamble to the blueprint of our beloved Belize.
Once S.53 is amended, life will go on as before. Belize will not suddenly become less homophobic. LGBT persons will not come flooding out of closets all over the country lining up to marry and adopt children. Certain religious leaders will not stop frothing at the mouth as they continue to obsess with gay sex. But hopefully, as people who value our rights and freedoms and cherish that noble document that guarantees them for every person in Belize, we will never again allow ourselves to suffer any group that wants to put their personal agenda ahead of the supreme law of Belize. Not even if they come with a Bible in one hand and a big protest sign in the other.