Court Overturns Puerto Rico Gay Rights Law
April 21, 2003
By 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
San Juan, Puerto Rico—The Puerto
Rico Supreme Court has overturned gay and lesbian provisions in domestic
In a 4-3 decision the court set aside criminal charges
against Leandro Ruiz Martínez for beating his domestic partner, Juan J. del
Valle, two years ago. It was, the first domestic-violence case the government
prosecuted since it decided to apply the law to same-sex couples.
The judges in the majority said the legislative intent
was to “strengthen the institution of the family,” defined as one of a
“sentimental and legal union between a man and a woman.”
The ruling comes as the Legislature is revising the
island’s penal code for the first time in 30 years, including Puerto
Rico’s sodomy law.
Although the law has never been applied in Puerto Rico,
activists say the threat is there. One lawmaker so much as voiced that threat
during hearings on the new code.
Lesbian activist Margarita Sánchez took the threat to
the commonwealth’s Supreme Court. The judges threw out the case ruling a
potential threat was not enough to prove a violation of the right to privacy
guaranteed in the island’s Constitution or unequal protection under the law.
The Ruiz domestic violence case, Sánchez says, shows the
danger of the sodomy law. In order to pursue the case, against his former
partner, del Valle had to get immunity from prosecution under the sodomy law,
which criminalizes any sexual contact not traditionally used for procreation.
“Here we see a clear example of the type of damage this
can cause,” said Janice Gutiérrez, director of the American Civil Liberties
Union’s Puerto Rico office.
“The decision by the court reflects that wish for the
[gay] community to continue to be nonexistent, for the closet to keep
growing,” said Ricardo Ramírez Lugo of the Legal Assistance Clinic at the
University of Puerto Rico’s Law School.
The U.S. Supreme Court currently is reviewing a Texas
case in which two men caught having sex in a bedroom claim the sodomy law is
unconstitutional. If the court rules the law unconstitutional it would void
the law in Puerto Rico and other states ant territories which still ban
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