Landmark Case Seeks To Abolish Jamaica’s Colonial-Era Anti-Gay Laws

A Jamaican gay rights advocacy group is challenging the nation’s colonial-era “buggery” laws as being unconstitutional and promoting homophobic violence.

The Offences Against Persons Act of 1864 – commonly known as the “buggery laws” – does not formally ban homosexuality but does stipulate up to 10 years in prison, with or without hard labor, for anyone convicted of the “abominable crime of buggery committed either with mankind or any animal.” The law also outlaws attempted buggery and gross indecency between two men.

Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world and according to Dane Lewis, Executive Director of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), murders of gay men are increasing.

“This year alone there have been nine [murders],” he told The Guardian. “The violence in Jamaica is having a spillover effect on other parts of the Caribbean: St Lucia now has a murder or so every year.”

In 2009, John Terry, the British honorary consul in Montego Bay, was found beaten and strangled to death with a note attached to his body: “This is what will happen to all gays.”

While it was uniting its kingdom, the British entrenched “buggery laws” into its colonies, many of which remain in some form. “Today, 42 of the 54 nations of the Commonwealth criminalize same-sex relations,” said the Conservative Lord Lexden at a House of Lords debate last week, noting homophobia as a legacy of the British empire.

JFLAG is trying to rectify that legacy in Jamaica with the help of the UK’s Human Dignity Trust. Together, they will challenge the Offenses Against Persons Act in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Jamaica is not a full member of the commission therefore any ruling would only be advisory and not binding,  but would send out a strong signal of international disapproval.