Belize PM says no change in 'gender policy' to result from court ruling

Friday, August 19, 2016

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BELMOPAN, Belize (CMC) — The Belize Government says there will be “no gender policy” as a result of a recent ruling by the  Supreme Court that overturned the country’s sodomy law, ruling that Section 53 of the Criminal Code which criminalises consenting intercourse between adults of the same sex contravenes the right granted by the Constitution.
According to Prime Minister Dean Barrow: “No gender policy will emerge in consequence of the chief justice’s ruling and do or set out some of the things that the churches seem to fear are inevitable consequences. It won’t happen. Nothing will change except, as I said, in this narrow regard."
Earlier this month, the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LBGT) activist Caleb Orozco and his United Belize Action Movement (UNIBAM) expressed satisfaction with the ruling by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin ruling that Section 53 of the Criminal Code contravenes the right granted by the Belize Constitution.
“I can, in good conscience, say to the nation that insofar as the claimants are concerned, they have been given what is without a doubt a shield, they have not been given a sword, and the entire nation must understand this,” Barrow told reporters.
Orozco and the group had in 2010 challenged the law claiming it contravened the country’s constitution of no interference with a person’s dignity and personal privacy, as well as equality and equal treatment of all persons before the law.
In a letter written by the Roman Catholic Church to Prime Minister Barrow earlier this week, Bishops Dorick Wright and Christopher Glancy highlighted the urgent need for appeal of the ruling, noting that in other countries decriminalisation of certain aspects of the sodomy law had been successfully challenged.
The church maintains that legalisation gave sudden rise to gay marriage legislation, laws which seriously breach the right of a child to a mother and a father.
The church further contends that decriminalisation can allow for the establishment of “a draconian gender agenda in the school system”.
But Prime Minister Barrow said, “We will, I repeat, make the rounds to set out Government’s position clearly to try to educate people.
“We will continue to appeal for calm and respect to the ruling and for the differences among us.  We will not just do the media rounds, if there are pamphlets and bulletins and literature that we have to put out we will do so.
“Cabinet has directed that we meet with the churches so that what I am saying here might be repeated and have the benefit of their forensic questioning of government in order to try as much as possible to clarify this absolutely horribly complicated issue,” he told reporters.
But Barrow made it clear that his administration would not be appealing the decision of the Supreme Court.
“The chief justice found that that section, except by reading it down, is against the Constitution of the country which is the supreme law, that is the role of the chief justice, that is the function of the judiciary in our society.”
Barrow said that he had been approached by a pastor telling him that the chief justice amended the Constitution.
“He did no such thing.  He amended Section 53 and he interpreted the Constitution with respect to one provision in a certain way, but again as the attorney general has said that is the role of the judiciary.  That is the function of the courts in our constitutional democracy.
“So disagree with it all you like, and that is also your right in a democracy, but please do not say it is what it is not and please do not say that it is the government.  We fought the case [and] we have to pay costs you know, not any; that is what I would want to appeal.
“The chief justice ordered costs only against the government.  The churches which filed these copious, voluminous briefs don’t have to pay anything and then the National Evangelical Association [of Belize] says I must file an appeal on their behalf.”
Prime Minister Barrow said that the question of costs is really secondary “but it is to make this point that we were, the attorney general was the defendant, the government fought to uphold Section 53 whether rightly or wrongly.
“The government fought to uphold Section 53 but the courts in pursuance of their legitimate and mandated function found that Section 53 is unconstitutional.  Government must respect that but don’t say that that means that it’s the government that changed the law,” he added,
Meanwhile, the main opposition Belize Progressive Party (BPP) is calling on the government to make the ruling an issue for a referendum here.
BPP leader Patrick Rogers said "…referendums are used to guide elected members in Government, what the will of the people they are governing is”.
According to Rogers, "any responsible administration, after seeing the results of a referendum... if they choose to maintain a stance that is in opposing view to that referendum result... won’t be governing much longer. Because laws must benefit the population – our Constitution says to make laws that are beneficial to the people of Belize, right? So if the law is not beneficial to us, we have a right to resist that law, okay? If we say we want the law to be this way and the Government refuse to put the law this way, they won’t be governing too long”.
The BPP treasurer, Robert “Bobby” Lopez, said the party will go to its financiers to raise at least BDS$300,000 to fund what he termed the “People’s Referendum”.

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