Dominica decriminalises same-sex activity with landmark ruling

The High Court found that the law criminalising same-sex activity violated the rights to liberty and privacy of LGBTQ+ people in Dominica.

Flag of Dominica, where same-sex activity has been decriminalised. It is a green flag, with a yellow, black and white cross and a red circle in the middle with a bird and green stars.
Image: Via Shutterstock - Creative Photo Corner

On April 22, the High Court of Dominica overturned a ban on same-sex activity between consenting adults, which was found to be in violation of the country’s constitution.

The case was brought before the court by an unnamed gay man living in Dominica. The claimant argued that the Sexual Offences Act, a law first introduced during British colonial rule in the 1800s and retained after independence, contravened his constitutional rights.

In his claim, he stated that the law condemned him “to live in constant fear of criminal sanction for engaging in consensual sexual activity” and that it incited “hateful and violent conduct towards him and other LGBT persons” which prevented them from living and expressing themselves “freely and in dignity”.

With the landmark decision delivered on Monday, the High Court ruled that Sections 14 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act violate rights enshrined in the Dominican constitution, namely the right to liberty, freedom of expression and protection of personal privacy.

In the 40-page ruling, Justice Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence stated, “I accept that the right to protection for privacy of the home encompasses private and family life and the personal sphere, which includes one’s sexual identity orientation as well as intimate activity with a partner of a person’s choice.”

She continued, “Therefore, sections 14 and 16 of the SOA contravene the Constitution in so far as they intrude on the private home life of an individual by proscribing the choice of consenting adults as to whom to engage in intimate sexual activity with and are therefore void.”

The court also found that “criminalising sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex as effected by sections 14 and 16 of SOA is an unjustifiable restriction on the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression in a free and democratic society”.


Welcoming the decision to overturn the ban on same-sex activity, founder of the charity Minority Rights Dominica (MiRiDom), Daryl Phillip, stated: “This ruling sets Dominica on a promising path toward restoring people’s dignity and safeguarding LGBTQ people’s rights to privacy, health, and freedom from torture and ill-treatment, aligning with international human rights obligations.”

Human rights NGO Outright International also commented on the news, saying: “Decriminalisation helps create an environment where LGBTQ individuals can live openly without fear of persecution, enabling them to access health care, education, and employment without facing discrimination.”

Outright Executive Director Maria Sjödin added, “The repeal of these discriminatory laws is a testament to the tireless efforts of activists, advocates, and allies who have long fought for justice and equality. It is a victory for human rights and a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights in the Caribbean.”

Dominica is the sixth Caribbean country where community efforts have resulted in the repeal of bans on same-sex activity. In recent years, others have removed such legislation, including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago. A case has also been brought to court in St Lucia.

However, five other Caribbean nations, namely Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, still criminalise same-sex relations under colonial-era laws imposed by the British in the 19th century.

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