U.K. to Repeal Caribbean Sodomy Laws
November 17, 2000
SUMMARY: Before the end of the year, homosexuality may no longer be
illegal in Britains island territories. However, the local governments arent
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 theyve 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. Britains 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."
Anguillas British deputy governor Roger Cousins confirmed that the British
Parliament is expected to change the territorial laws late this year.
Anguillas 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 dont believe that anything will stop that. However, as long as their
behavior does not impede on the culture of this country, thats 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
But while the territorials are unhappy, Britains 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."