The High Court of Barbados has struck down gross indecency and buggery laws that criminalise consensual same-sex relations.
The oral decision was handed down on Monday, December 12, to be followed by full written reasons in January 2023.
Sections 9 and 12 of the Barbados Sexual Offences Act, also known as the “buggery” and “indecency” laws, were remnants of the British colonial era and criminalised consensual same-sex intimacy. Under Section 9, punishment for breaking the law was life imprisonment for men who engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Under Section 12, both men and women were criminalised and liable to imprisonment of up to 10 years.
Téa Braun, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust (HDT), an international human rights organisation, said,
‘This is a resounding victory for LGBT people in Barbados, which is the third country in the region to decriminalise through the courts this year. The Trust is immensely proud to have provided technical assistance to these cases since 2015, and we heartily congratulate the whole team, especially the local litigants and lawyers who have doggedly pursued justice in the many years leading up to this momentous day.’
Barbados was one of only seven remaining criminalising countries in the Western Hemisphere, after the courts of both Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis struck down similar laws earlier this year.
‘There are now only six countries in the Americas where laws linger on the books that have been in place since colonial times criminalising LGBT people,’ Braun continued. ‘Today’s decision makes clear that the remaining few must now accelerate the repeal or striking down of these stigmatising laws.’
The case was filed by two Barbadian LGBT advocates with local organisation Equals joining the case as community support, and regional LGBT umbrella organisation, the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, convening the process.
One of the litigants in the case said,
‘I must thank everyone that was a part of this process. When I got into civil society organising, I quickly understood I was building on the work of countless others before me. I was benefiting from the gains they made, and I had lived examples from the hardships they faced. Today’s ruling is one step, one action of many impacting the LGBTQ+ community of Barbados. As it resonates with me, I already know there is more work to be done. We will continue on together.’
The other litigant said, ‘Today was a pivotal moment for equality for all Barbadians and one more step in the journey towards more inclusivity for LGBT citizens. This will definitely mean that I and my community can navigate life with just a little more ease and comfort, in the knowledge that Barbados has taken a step to understand us and respect us.’
This and the other 2022 court victories in the Caribbean come hot on the heels of a landmark 2021 decision from a top regional human rights tribunal, finding that laws criminalising LGBT people across the Americas violate international law.