Last night, we told you how the Catholic Church was completely pulling out of the Appeal of the Section 53 judgement. That's the case that Gay Rights Activist Caleb Orozco brought to challenge Section 53 of the Criminal Code which made sodomy a criminal offense.
1 year and 7 months ago, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin delivered a landmark decision making it completely legal between consenting adults. Shortly after the ruling was handed down, the Churches stepped up public pressure on the Government, urging them to make a limited appeal.
That was supposed to open the door for the Catholic or the Anglican Church to appeal the entire decision itself. Very early into that process, however, the Anglican Church stated clearly that they had no intention to push for a full appeal of the decision.
Other churches were depending on the Catholic Church to take on that role, but as early as the beginning of February this year it started to surface, that the Roman Catholics were not meeting deadlines as litigants in the case. They did not file their written submissions in time, and their attorney on record went before the Court of Appeal and asked to be removed as their legal representative.
We understand that the court asked them to clearly state their intentions as the prosecutors of this appeal. And last Friday, their current attorney, Phillip Zuniga, communicated with the court and the litigants saying, quote, "Take notice that the Roman Catholic Church, the Appellant in Civil Appeal Number 31… hereby wholly withdraws its appeal against the Respondent."
The Court of Appeal, which is in session at this time, called the case up for a report this morning, and again, Zuniga indicated to the court that the Catholic Church is no longer participating in the case. With that outcome, the Section 53 judgment is finalized once and for all. But now, the Government is basically like that date who's all dressed up and nowhere to go. They were pressured into bringing an appeal by the Church, which has now completely pulled out.
The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Manuel Sosa, made it clear to the Sol Gen today that they would not wish to waste time and resources on the Government's limited appeal, and that the State would maybe want to reconsider. He also did make it clear that if the Barrow Administration still wanted to examine whether "sex" in the constitution should be expanded to include "sexual orientation", the court would still entertain the case.
We got a chance to speak with both sides about this unusual turn of events, and here's what they told us:
Lisa Shoman, SC - Attorney for UNIBAM
"Let me say how delighted my clients and I are that the Roman Catholic Church has chosen to withdraw their appeal and I would like Belizeans to know that my client, Mr. Orozco, has been very clear that we are not seeking any kind of legal costs against the Roman Catholic Church. That leaves then, only Appeal #32 of 2016, which is the State, or the Attorney General against Mr. Orozco, and the Interested Parties."
Nigel Hawke - Solicitor General
"The substantive decision stands because our appeal is, as we always said, a limited appeal. So, the substantive decision stands."
Caleb Orozco - Claimant/Respondent
"When the Catholic Church decided to withdraw, it finally reflected the values of compassion, service, and impacting the lives of people in a way that cannot be described, only felt. One of the things I've come to realize after over a decade in advocacy is that legal victories by themselves don't bring the change, and that the hearts and minds of our people need be engaged in regards to how we treat each other as citizen."
Lisa Shoman, SC
"So, what the President of the Court of Appeal was communicating to the Solicitor General is that the State should considered very carefully its options as to whether it wishes to proceed, because in the words of the President, one of the principal participants had now left the stage, and that it was virtually the view of the Court that the State stands alone."
"I think the Court invite me look at certain circumstances, but as you know, I'm a law officer of the Crown, so I have to take instructions on the intimation from the Court. So, we'll see how that goes. They've also indicated that they'll write to us."
Lisa Shoman, SC
"So, I've given an undertaking that we are going to communicate with the AG and the Sol Gen formally to inquire whether they wish to now withdraw what we think is largely an academic appeal. Courts do not deal with academic matters. There must be a real live issue, and we believe that the issue of arguing over whether sex includes sexual orientation is a little bit like getting angels to dance on a pin. Really, it's an academic discussion. We think there are far graver issues facing our society at present. The Court has a full docket. The Court has an obligation to manage its scarce resources, as best it can, and we really think this is one in which usefully, the Attorney General might wish to consider their options as to whether they continue or not."
So, to reiterate, the Section 53 judgment, which legalized anal sex between consenting adults is now final, and can no longer be challenged. The Government still has their appeal which they want the court to decide whether "sex" in the constitution should be expanded to include "sexual orientation", as ruled by Chief Justice Benjamin. The Solicitor General will take advice on the Government's position, given the Appeal Court's concern, and if the Government still intends to push their limited appeal further, the case will be heard in June.
This evening, the NEAB, one of the church organizations that was depending on the Catholic Church to appeal this case, sent out an impromptu press release.
It reads, quote, "The National Evangelical Association of Belize is saddened at the Roman Catholic Bishop's decision to withdraw from the Section 53 Sodomy Lawsuit Appeal. It is our firm belief that Godly Values must be actively guarded & nurtured, and that the Church is tasked with the responsibility as guardians of those Godly values. We as NEAB are resolute to stand for what's right in Gods eyes & urge all Belizeans to do the same. God will make a way where there seems to be no way."