Last edited: January 27, 2005

Court Overturns Puerto Rico Gay Rights Law, April 21, 2003

By Newscenter Staff

San Juan, Puerto Rico—The Puerto Rico Supreme Court has overturned gay and lesbian provisions in domestic violence laws.

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 sodomy.

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