Both Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday have noted the right of persons to challenge the laws that criminalise buggery in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The two leaders expressed their views separately this week after a court challenge by Vincentians Sean MacLeish, 53, and Javin Johnson, 22, challenging the constitutionality of the laws.
Speaking on radio on Sunday, Gonsalves said the essence of the legal challenge is that it is unconstitutional to outlaw anal sex among consenting adults in the privacy of their home.
He noted that the buggery laws capture acts between same sex or heterosexual couples.
“People should have their day in court and the matter be ventilated and the court must pronounce,” said Gonsalves, a lawyer, who is also Minister of Justice.
“Clearly, the gay and lesbian community have decided internationally and regionally and I am making this comment in an objective manner, I am not making any comment other than objective, I am not expressing a view. They have clearly decided to test the constitutionality of these laws.”
He noted that the courts in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago have ruled that it is unconstitutional to prevent consenting adults from engaging in these activities in private.
The prime minister noted that similar challenges have been filed in Dominica and Barbados, adding that he understands that there are moves afoot to file similar cases in Jamaica and Guyana.
“I think if they file in Dominica and in St. Vincent, whatever happens here, it will be an OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) decision because whatever happens here it will apply because all the constitutional provisions are similar and the legislation is basically similar and if the legislation is unconstitutional here and in Dominica, you can say it is unconstitutional in Antigua and in St. Kitts and Grenada and so on,” the prime minister said.
Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Friday said that the legal challenge is not surprising
“It’s not unexpected because this is something that has been done in other parts of the Caribbean as well,” said Friday, who is also a lawyer.
“The matter is in the court so I am not going to get too much into it. Just to say that the application that has been made to the court, that is the right of anyone to apply to the court if they feel their rights have been violated and the process will work its way through.”
Friday, also commented on the general issues of same-sex relations, saying “it is a very contentious matter publicly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean.
“And what has happened in societies all over the world is that these laws and these practices, attitudes change over time and each society has to move along at its own pace,” the opposition leader said.
In their legal challenge, Johnson and Samuel are being advised by Queen’s Counsel Jeremy Johnson QC and Peter Laverack of 5 Essex Court in the United Kingdom.
The claimants assert that these laws strip their dignity and autonomy.
Johnson successfully claimed asylum in the United Kingdom in 2017 having established that he could not live as a gay man in St. Vincent.
MacLeish, who lives in Chicago, Illinois, says he has failed in his public advocacy to Gonsalves for the removal of these laws so that he may return home with his partner.
The two claimants are unknown to each other, having separately decided that now is the time for decriminalisation, a press release said.
They say that these laws violate multiple and overlapping rights in the Constitution, which are there to protect all Vincentians, no matter who they are or who they love.
These court challenges come in the wake of Jason Jones’ successful challenge to Trinidad and Tobago’s anti-gay laws; a week after a similar challenge was filed in Dominica.
Commonwealth Caribbean nations inherited their buggery laws during British colonial rule.
The challenges were filed by St. Vincent lawyers, Zita Barnwell and Jomo Thomas, listing English barristers Jeremy Johnson QC and Peter Laverack of 5 Essex Court, London, as the intended trial advocates.