Last edited: January 01, 2005

U.K. to Repeal Caribbean Sodomy Laws

PlanetOut News, November 17, 2000

SUMMARY: Before the end of the year, homosexuality may no longer be illegal in Britain’s island territories. However, the local governments aren’t particularly thrilled about it.

The British Government has finally run out of patience with the five of its 13 overseas territories that still criminalize private consensual homosexual acts. It will move to force them to repeal these sodomy laws before Christmas.

It has been nearly three years since British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook first began to turn up the heat on the territories, asking them to lift antigay laws, as well as to end the death penalty and bring financial practices up to international standards. In a March 1999 White Paper, the government offered the carrot of British citizenship (which a Conservative Government withdrew in 1981 in fear of mass immigration from then-territory Hong Kong) to try to get the territories to take the action on their own. But territorial politicians have maintained throughout that it would be political suicide for them even to introduce repeal of the rarely enforced laws in their conservative Christian communities, and at times they’ve warned that British intervention in the matter could even lead to civil disorder. But while there have been occasional rumblings toward independence rather than compliance, territorial leaders now seem to be saying there is nothing they can do if Britain forces repeal.

In fact, Britain itself has had no choice about the outcome. It is bound by international treaty obligations — including the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights — and those obligations are also incumbent upon its territories. Britain’s 13 overseas territories (several of which are uninhabited) represent the last vestiges of the British Empire. The five territories with sodomy laws are Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The plan for forced repeal hit the news this week when Overseas Territory Minister Baroness Patricia Scotland responded in writing to an inquiry from a Member of Parliament. Scotland had made every effort at persuasion, traveling through the territories speaking with political and church leaders, reporters and the public, but her pleas for sodomy repeal were nonetheless rejected. She wrote, "We said that in the event of formal notification that they were unwilling to pass the necessary measures, we would have to consider making an Order in Council. I expect to do this before Christmas." Anguilla’s British deputy governor Roger Cousins confirmed that the British Parliament is expected to change the territorial laws late this year.

Anguilla’s Chief Minister, Osbourne Fletcher, tried to put a positive spin on the situation, telling the Caribbean News Agency this week that, "In Anguilla today, there are a lot of homosexuals that come to our shores every month, every season they are here, and so I don’t believe that anything will stop that. However, as long as their behavior does not impede on the culture of this country, that’s their business. ... There is nothing we can do once the legislation is passed." Anguillans consider Christianity the foundation of their society, but they are dependent on British aid.

British Virgin Islands lawmaker Orlando Smith also told the Associated Press that, "There is nothing we can do about it."

The Cayman Islands was the first of the territories to issue an official rejection of repeal, in a formal government statement in April 1999 saying, "We abide by the views of the vast majority of Caymanians who live in a Christian community based on firmly held religious beliefs that homosexuality should not be legalized." The Caymans famously denied docking privileges to a gay cruise in January 1998, and the United Church that led a protest against that cruise also still maintains today that the sodomy law reflects the wishes and values of most Caymanians. (The cruise eventually moved on to a pleasant visit in Belize.)

But while the territorials are unhappy, Britain’s national gay and lesbian advocacy group Stonewall is pleased. Executive director Angela Mason, said, "This is a very welcome initiative. Equality before the law is a basic human right wherever you live. We are delighted the government is taking these rights seriously."

[Home] [World] [United Kingdom]