Caribbean: Court Upholds Same-Sex Intimacy Ban in St Vincent and the Grenadines


Relationships between LGBTIQ+ people on the island of Saint Vincent will remain criminalised following a disappointing ruling by the country’s High Court (Photo: P.khiao)

In a blow to the LGBTIQ+ community in the Caribbean, the High Court in St Vincent and the Grenadines has refused to overturn the country’s colonial-era ban on consensual same-sex sexual activity.

The ruling is a response to two cases filed in 2019 by Javin Johnson and Sean Macleish, two gay Vincentian men living in the United Kingdom and the USA respectively.

They challenged sections 146 and 148 of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ Criminal Code, titled “Buggery” and “Indecent practices between persons of the same sex”.

The discriminatory laws target LGBTIQ+ people on the island nation by criminalising same-sex sexual activity, with punishment of up to ten years’ imprisonment.

In an oral judgement on Friday, Justice Esco Lorene Henry dismissed both cases in their entirety.

Activists noted that the court’s decision is at odds with the positive trend towards decriminalisation of same-sex intimacy in other judgments in the region.

Téa Braun, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust, an international human rights organisation, said, “This is a huge disappointment for LGBT people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The judgment stands in stark contrast to decisions striking out these outdated laws by neighbouring courts in Barbados, Antigua and St Kitts in 2022, as well as other courts around the world.”

Jeshua Bardoo, founder and Executive Officer of local human rights group Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. (ERAO SVG), described the court’s ruling as “a sad day” for LGBTQ+ rights in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

“These archaic and draconian colonial laws, though not strictly enforced, symbolically denigrate LGBTQ+ persons as second-class citizens in their own country and perpetuate prejudice and stigma against them,” reflected Bardoo, who is also an attorney.

He called on the government to repeal the laws which have led many queer people in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to migrate, or seek out asylum or refugee status in other countries to escape queerphobic violence and discrimination.

LGBTIQ+ rights group Outright International said the ruling represents a missed opportunity to uphold the human rights of LGBTIQ+ Vincentians.

“Decriminalisation is crucial to creating an inclusive society for all Vincentians. Inclusive laws can facilitate the government’s ability to combat homophobic and transphobic discrimination in various sectors, such as work and education, and strengthen the rule of law for all residents,” asserted the organisation in a statement.

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