Modest Win in Jamaica

For seven years, I have been in court fighting the Jamaican government and nine anti-gay religious groups for the right to kiss my partner. An 1864 British colonially imposed law makes acts of intimacy between men illegal, and my partner and I could be imprisoned for up to ten years at hard labour. Even worse, since 2012, those convicted would also have to register as sex offenders and always carry a “Scarlet Letter” pass or face a further 12 months’ imprisonment plus a J$1million (US$6,800) fine.

I have, therefore, watched with hope as similar laws criminalizing my love around the world have been struck down by courts. So, in 2015, I launched a case to have Jamaica’s archaic and dehumanizing anti-sodomy law repealed.

Usually, courts expedite human rights cases, but for various reasons mine has dragged on. The government of Jamaica has rejected calls by local and international groups to end the persecution of LGBT people and is staunchly defending the law with the support of some of the island’s powerful religious groups. Many times, I have suffered depression because of the seemingly overwhelming odds.

But recently I had a significant, interim victory. On January 20, 2022, the court dismissed an application by the government to split my case in two, which would have further delayed the matter. The court also ordered the government to pay my legal costs!

The government had argued that the court has no jurisdiction to rule on this archaic law because it is “saved” by a peculiar quirk in our constitution and this issue should be tried first. However, I argued that when the onerous sex offender registry was implemented, the antiquated law was no longer “saved.” I also argued that the establishment and effect of this registry should be considered by the court that will eventually hear my case, rather than risk having the issues decided by separate judges. And thankfully the court agreed!

Unsurprisingly, the lawyers for the Jamaican government immediately appealed, so I still must wait for my full case to be heard.

But in the meantime, I take comfort in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I know that love will win. Some day.

Maurice Tomlinson

LGBTQ Rights Consultant