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Home / Press Release / Constitutional Challenge Filed Against Jamaican Anti-sodomy Law
December 11, 2015

Constitutional Challenge Filed Against Jamaican Anti-sodomy Law

Washington, D.C. - Human Rights First today applauded the filing of a constitutional challenge against Jamaica’s discriminatory anti-sodomy law as an important part of holistic efforts to advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the country. The claim was filed by Jamaican human rights activist Maurice Tomlinson on November 27th and announced yesterday after a similar claim was withdrawn in August 2014 when the plaintiff faced threats against himself and his family.

“The repeal of this colonial-era discriminatory law is long overdue. Tomlinson’s efforts will be instrumental in achieving progress toward greater equality for LGBT Jamaicans,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “The U.S. government should make clear to its Jamaican allies that it supports this case and urge them to support civil society efforts to advance the human rights of LGBT people. The United States should also urge counterparts to ensure the safety of Tomlinson and others working toward LGBT equality, who often face threats, violence, and discrimination because of their human rights activism."

The case is being brought on grounds that the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, which calls for a punishment of up to 10 years of imprisonment with hard labor for those convicted of the “abominable crime of buggery,” violates the constitutional rights of Jamaicans under Jamaica's Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The criminalization of homosexuality in Jamaica dates back to Article 76 of the law, which makes sexual acts between men illegal.

“The law is a gross violation of my human rights and those of all LGBTI people in my country,” said Tomlinson. “It directly infringes numerous rights guaranteed by Jamaica’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, and also fuels horrific violence.” 

The law legitimizes discrimination and violence toward LGBT people based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Members of the LGBT community are denied access to basic rights and services, resulting in alarming rates of homelessness and HIV. The law also breeds a climate of impunity in cases of violence and discrimination against LGBT Jamaicans.

The case is supported by AIDS-Free World and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Jamaica Gleaner, one of the leading news publications in the country, today published an editorial expressing support for Tomlinson and recognizing the sodomy law’s nefarious effect on the rights of LGBT Jamaicans. Earlier this year, President Obama travelled to Jamaica and expressed his support for the LGBT community and Jamaican civil society.

Earlier this week, Tomlinson participated in a reception commemorating Human Rights Day hosted by Human Rights First and the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. Human Rights First continues to urge the United States  to support the efforts of civil society in Jamaica, who are creating momentum for change in the country, and recognize the efforts of Jamaican leaders standing in support of LGBT human rights. Human Rights First’s report, "The World as it Should Be: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in Jamaica,” outlines steps the U.S. government should take to support Jamaican civil society and advance the human rights of all Jamaicans.

For more information contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at [email protected] or 212-845-5269.