Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Panama: Anti-gay sodomy statute still in the books

[UPDATE to this post: The law was repealed on July 29, 2008 by Panamanian president Martino Torrijos Espino - Andres]

Back on November 14th, when I wrote about the disappearance of Nicaragua's notorious anti-gay sodomy statute from it's penal code, I called it a historic development and said it was "the last anti-gay sodomy statute in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries."

Not so fast.

Rex Wockner, who authors a syndicated international LGBT news column for several newspapers first noticed that I mentioned Belize among what I thought were the only two countries left in the American continent to penalize sodomy between consenting same-sex couples (the other one being Guyana) - a country that he had not listed as having a sodomy statute in one of his past columns (I had relied on WikiPedia, not always the most trustworthy of places).

Rex, who was planning to write about Nicaragua for the column that came out this week
did some additional research and told me not only that the Belize statute checked-out but that he also found out that an anti-gay sodomy statute was still alive in Panama (you can check Rex's full column at Windy City Times)

It gets a little confusing:
A country of origin research post on LGBT rights in Panama posted at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada website quotes the UK's Gay Times magazine as stating in 2002 that homosexuality is legal in the country (an interactive map at Amnesty International's website on "LGBT Status Around the World" also fails to raise flags about any Panamanian anti-gay statutes).

But the same Canadian country of origin report says that in the 2002 article Gay Times also reported "
that homosexuals still face discriminatory laws; according to a 1949 decree, gay public sex is punishable by a $500 fine or one year in prison, while no equivalent exists for heterosexuals" which is not quite a sodomy statute but indicates that there are penalties for certain same-sex sexual interaction.

Gay Times based their statements on information given to them by
New Men and Women Association of Panama (AHMNP), the country's leading LGBT-rights organization, which actually has the text of the 1949 law posted here (in Spanish). And, while most of the law concerns itself with issues related to prostitution and public sex, Article 12 actually reads as follows:
Clandestine prostitution, procurement (proxenetismo), sodomy and all vices of sexual degeneration not specified under this Decree will be sanctioned with penalties imposed by the Director of the Department of Public Health."
The penalty for sodomy under this law? From three months to a year in jail or a fine of 50 to 500 balboas (currently 1 balboa is equal to 1 dollar).

So apparently Panama is the last Spanish-speaking Latin American country with penalties for acts of sodomy.

In his column, Rex lists Panama along with Belize and Guyana as being the three nations in Central and South America that continue to have laws banning gay sex. He also names
several Caribbean islands, including Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago as still having anti-gay sodomy laws noting that "ten of the countries are former British colonies."

A side-note: I am not surprised by it because both the United States and Canadian governments do this but it's still shocking how much a refugee / immigration board relies on a tiny article from a gay British magazine looking at Panama from a tourism-interest angle to base their conclusions regarding country of origin status for LGBT immigrants.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada quote other sources but mostly rely on the Gay Times piece and there seems to have been no attempt to even contact AHMNP or other direct sources in Panama for the report.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BTW, Uruguay's House passed a civil unions bill today. Next, it goes to the Senate.