Dominica: Churches again use delay tactics to defend anti-sodomy law

Churches in Dominica have barged their way into a lawsuit over the nation’s anti-sodomy law that has nothing to do with religious freedom.

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COMMENTARY

By Maurice Tomlinson

Today, at what was meant to be the final case management conference before the start of the constitutional challenge to Dominica’s anti-sodomy law, the Dominica Christian Council applied and received the court’s permission to intervene in this case. This means that the case, which was first filed in July 2019, was further delayed and another case management hearing will now take place on November 23.

It is regrettable that the Christian Council, which had ample notice of this matter (such as the July 2019 article “Challenge to Dominica’s buggery laws filed in Dominica High Court” in Dominica News Online), waited so long to apply to join this case.

Daryl Phillip, founder and leader of the LGBTI rights group MiRiDom, announced the challenge to Dominia’s anti-sodomy law in July 2019. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

This could possibly be a coordinated delay tactic as church groups across the region have similarly applied to join ongoing anti-sodomy law challenges in Belize, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago. These religious interventions have contributed to lengthy delays in the hearing of these constitutional claims, which, because they concern fundamental human rights, are supposed to be prioritized and expedited by courts. For example, the Jamaica case, which was filed in 2015, suffered multiple adjournments, partly because of the 10 religious groups that applied for interested party status. That case is now scheduled to have another preliminary hearing in March 2021, nearly six years after the matter was first filed!

It is also questionable what the Dominica Christian Council can add to this case, as it is a challenge to the ban on private consensual same-sex activity, and in no way touches on religious freedom. There is no attempt to force the churches to support same-sex intimacy and, even if this law was struck down (as is happening around the world), churches would still be at liberty to preach against homosexuality, in the same way that the legalization of divorce did not prevent some churches from continuing to condemn this practice.

The position of the Dominica Christian Council is also at odds with the Catholic Bishop of Roseau, who heads the largest denomination on the island.  As far back as 2013 the bishop said that the Catholic church did not support the anti-sodomy law.

This further delay is a simply a case of “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

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Written by Maurice Tomlinson

Maurice Tomlinson of Jamaica and Canada has been involved in HIV and AIDS and LGBTI rights activism in the Caribbean for over 15 years. An attorney-at-law, he leads and supports legal challenges seeking the repeal of the region's homophobic laws. Contact him by email via 76crimes (at) gmail.com.

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