Dramatic scene: Challenge to Belize sodomy law under way

Unibam leader Caleb Orozco.
Unibam leader Caleb Orozco.

The constitutional challenge to the Belize anti-sodomy law, spearheaded by Unibam leader Caleb Orozco, reached the Supreme Court of Belize today.

Asa DeMatteo, a clinical psychologist living with his same-sex spouse in San Francisco, is blogging from that courtroom.  DeMatteo became involved in efforts to overturn that law a few years ago after he responded to a Christian pastor/politician’s op-ed piece in 2010 about homosexuality in Belize. 

At issue is the constitutionality of Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code, which provides for up to 10 years in prison for “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”

Here are DeMatteo’s dispatches via Tumblr:

Excitement and tension

Asa DeMatteo (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Asa DeMatteo (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

I am here in the Supreme Court of Belize observing an august body of legal professionals. It is a high-ceilinged, wood-paneled room with ceiling fans quietly whirring and people chatting in low voices. There is an air of both excitement and tension all around. I will post here as much as I can. I have had so much coffee this morning that my hands are shaking, so please excuse any grammar or spelling errors. I claim temporary disability. You can also see my posts on my Facebook page. If you have any trouble seeing my page, send a friend request. I will approve it.

The Chief Justice arrives

How formal and elegant everyone looks, especially the Chief Justice [Kenneth Benjamin].  We all rise and bow to the grandeur of the law.

The advocates on both sides are now introducing themselves to the court.  I am disappointed that they have dispensed with the powdered wigs of the English courts, but it is still an extremely handsome group of men and women.

Some minor procedural matters are the first agendum to be discussed.  Some evidentiary documents have not yet been submitted and there is a question of whether they can be obtained before the trial is concluded this week.

On the tables of advocates are stacked with over 20 volumes of documents.

Unibam bracelets
Unibam bracelets

The head advocate [Christopher Smith‐Hamel of Trinidad] for UNIBAM [United Belize Advocacy Movement] has started out by arguing that all the issues raised in the case refer back to the constitution of Belize.  In other words, this is not a case about homosexual rights, but the rights specified in the constitution, the supreme law of Belize.  Any law that  conflicts with the constitution is invalid to the extent of the conflict.  He sets out the primary question to be adjudicated is if and to what extent Section 53 of the Belize criminal code inconsistent with the constitution.

The plaintiff in the case, Caleb Orozco, is a 39-year-old adult citizen of Belize who is a homosexual man who is disposed to consensual sex with others of his own sex.  The crime that he is guilty of, because of S53, is indistinguishable in the law from rape or bestiality.  Is that constitutional?  The direct effect of S53 is to force the plaintiff, who is otherwise a law-abiding citizen of Belize, to make an intolerable choice:  Must he forgo consensual private sexual behavior to which he is disposed or, alternatively live his life as an unapprehended criminal indistinguishable from a rapist or a person who commits bestiality.  The  plaintiff asks for relief in the form of the court ordering the alteration of S53 to the extent, and only to the extent, that it forces him to make the intolerable choice.

Citing a South African case, UNIBAM’s advocate says that only in the most trivial sense is this case about who does what to whom with what body part or orifice.  It touches a much more profound issue of how do you accommodate all people in a pluralistic society to allow them a sense of self, privacy, and freedom of conscience, not to disparage and diminish anyone’s dignity.

He cites the Belize constitution’s preamble which says that all laws shall be based upon PRINCIPLES that acknowledge the supremacy of God, who has endowed each person with autonomy, freedom of conscience, protection of his home and personal privacy, and his dignity as a person and citizen of Belize.  All laws must be consistent with that with which God has endowed us.

A person shall not be hindered in his fundamental rights to freedom to live his life with religious freedom, privacy, and freedom of conscience.

The chief advocate speaks slowly, pausing to let the profundity of his points sink in.  The audience is riveted.  He says that thus case is about a clash of two world views.  But they are now views that are as inconsistent as they have drawn in the public fora.  The world view that is advocated by the plaintiff’s advocates is founded on the constitution.  As  a matter of right, of the constitution, and the basis of law, this world view allows each person FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE.

The God of the constitution is not only the Christian God.  He is the God of all, however any citizen conceives of him.  He is the creator of all, not only the Christians.  A Belizean has the constitutional right to worship and obey whatever God he is so disposed to follow and worship, and the morals there specified.  The state should not interfere with that private morality, as long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s private morality.

The plaintiff’s recognize and deeply cherish the council of church’s right to hold, to teach, and to advocate for their moral principles.  They should only refrain from forcing others to accept their notions by being forced to follow laws that encompass that private morality.

I am not doing justice to this clearly brilliant man.  I am astonished by how clearly and succinctly he presents the points at issue in this case.

Crisis in the court

I’m running out of battery and there’s no plug near in the courtroom.  I’ll continue as long as I can.  I can’t wait to hear the defendant’s response.

Belize court coverage so far:

DAY 1
Dramatic scene: Challenge to Belize sodomy law under way (this article)
Belize challenge to anti-gay law, 140 characters at a time

DAY 2
Belize sodomy law on trial, Day 2

DAY 3
Day 3: Defenders of Belize sodomy law

DAY 4
Final arguments in Belize sodomy case

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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Today: Court challenge to Belize anti-gay law

Belize challenge to anti-gay law, 140 characters at a time