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Belize's Supreme Court Just Struck Down A Law That Made Homosexuality Illegal

The country is the first former British colony in the Caribbean to strike down its colonial-era sodomy law, and the move could boost LGBT rights throughout the region.

Last updated on August 12, 2016, at 2:00 p.m. ET

Posted on August 10, 2016, at 1:50 p.m. ET

Jose Cabezas / Reuters

The Belize Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a law punishing homosexuality was unconstitutional.

The decision was announced on the LGBT rights group Unibam's Twitter account soon after the ruling was made. Unibam first brought the challenge against the law back in 2010.

We won on all counts. Speechless. Omg. Speechless

Caleb won his challenge to the Belize anti-sodomy law on all counts and was awarded costs! VICTORY for the Caribbean

Caleb Orozco, the main plaintiff in the case, told BuzzFeed News in an email that the Supreme Court ruled in his favor on privacy grounds, as well as under protections of "dignity, equality, and freedom of expression." He added that the court also decided that protections in the Belizean constitution surrounding sex extend to sexual orientation.

Belize, a country of around 350,000 people on the Caribbean coast neighboring Mexico and Guatemala, has had the law in place since its days as a British colony. LGBT advocates are hopeful that the ruling could bolster efforts to eliminate similar laws in 10 other English-speaking countries in the Caribbean that also have roots in their colonial past.

Another closely watched challenge in the region is Jamaica, where attorney Maurice Tomlinson brought suit against the country’s law criminalizing homosexuality in December. Tomlinson has accused the country’s Supreme Court of “stack[ing] the deck” against his litigation by granting standing to conservative groups supporting the provision.

Tomlinson recently won a partial victory in a separate suit challenging laws in Belize and the country of Trinidad and Tobago that barred gay people from entering the country. The Caribbean Court of Justice, which has jurisdiction over the countries in the Caribbean Community, held that the laws were discriminatory and therefore unenforceable. But the court dismissed the suit as unnecessary because the countries weren’t actually blocking anyone from entry under the provision.

Speaking before the ruling on Belize’s homosexuality law was issued, Tomlinson told BuzzFeed News that a decision to strike down the provision could be “highly persuasive” to courts in other Caribbean nations where similar suits could be filed, and “the reasoning would be very important for my ongoing challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law.”

Read the court's full judgement here:

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.