KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — A gay rights activist got his first court hearing Tuesday on his effort to bring a constitutional challenge to Jamaica’s nearly 150-year-old colonial-era law that bans sex between men.
The rare court challenge to the 1864 anti-sodomy law is being pushed by Javed Jaghai, a young outreach worker for the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays, the Caribbean country’s sole gay rights group.
On Tuesday, the matter had its initial mention in the chambers of Jamaica’s Supreme Court. Justice Carol Edwards gave the attorney general, who is named as the defendant, until mid-September to file a response and the next hearing was scheduled for early October. Jaghai is seeking authorization to take his case to the Constitutional Court.
Edwards authorized a number of religious associations and a child advocacy group to join the case as interested parties. Homosexuality is perceived as a sin by Jamaica’s influential religious lobby and nearly a dozen other Caribbean nations where anti-sodomy laws are on the books.
The rarely used law bans anal sex and sets a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and hard labor. Anything interpreted as “gross indecency” between men can be punished by two years in prison.
On Sunday, several church pastors led crowded revival meetings in Jamaica’s two biggest cities to oppose overturning the law. Church of Christ pastor Leslie Buckland called homosexuality “unlawful and unnatural” in the eyes of God and said “no government has the authority to rebel against God.”
Jaghai argues Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law fuels homophobia and violates a charter of human rights adopted in 2011 that guarantees islanders the right to privacy. He argues this must include the right of consenting adults to make fundamental decisions about their intimate relationships.
He claims he was evicted from an apartment by his landlady on the basis of his sexual orientation and says the anti-sodomy law encourages discrimination against gays.