Last edited: December 17, 2004

UK Ends Territories’ Sodomy Laws

PlanetOut News, December 22, 2000

Britain’s Caribbean island territories refused to repeal their harsh sodomy laws to comply with international treaties, so Her Majesty has done it for (and in spite of) them.

As promised, Britain has acted to decriminalize private homosexual acts between consenting adults in its Overseas Territories, moving in where indigenous politicians feared to tread. Junior Foreign Office minister Baroness Patricia Scotland wrote this week in response to an inquiry from a peer that, "An Order in Council to do so [repeal the sodomy laws] was made by Her Majesty at the Privy Council meeting on the 13 December 2000 and will come into force on 1 January 2001." Scotland had said in response to a mid-November inquiry by a Member of Parliament that there would be an Order in Council before Christmas. At issue are laws in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, all in the Caribbean; the other eight Overseas Territories either do not have sodomy laws or are uninhabited.

The islands have resisted Britain’s concerted attempts at persuasion and bargaining on the point for about two years, with politicians insisting it would be political suicide even to propose repeal -- at times even threatening to seek independence rather than comply. More recently territorial leaders seem to have accepted the inevitability of repeal, which Britain needed to meet its own international treaty obligations including the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

The Cayman Islands, which in January 1998 famously denied docking privileges to a gay cruise, in April 1999 became the first of the territories to issue an official statement to Britain that they would not legalize homosexuality, "based on firmly held religious beliefs".

Some former British territories in the Caribbean have taken up the debate. Most recently, Dominica’s Prime Minister Pierre Charles said in a radio interview December 12 that, "The government has no interest in that [sodomy repeal], and I want to assure Dominicans that this is not the way the government will be going." Dominica’s acting Attorney General Bernard Wiltshire had previously told a newspaper that the nation’s sodomy law, with its penalty of up to ten years in prison, "discriminates and is unfair."

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