Puerto Rican Public and Courts Weigh Gay Rights With Unprecedented Legal Case and Political Action

Affiliate: ACLU of Puerto Rico
February 21, 2001 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – Lesbian and gay rights are taking center stage in Puerto Rico this week, as activities around the island bring attention to Puerto Rico’s anti-gay sodomy law, and the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico prepares to hear arguments challenging the law – the first gay rights case of the highest court’s 101-year history.

rev sanchez

Rev. Margarita Sanchez (left) is the lead plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit challenging Puerto Rico’s sodomy law. She is joined by Nora Vargas, a San Juan-based cooperating attorney in the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the legal challenge to Puerto Rico’s sodomy law, will lead a variety of public forums and events with Puerto Rican gay activists starting today and lasting through the week.

This week’s events – known in Puerto Rico as a “jornada” – cap months of political protests against the sodomy law, including group fasts and weekly protests in front of the Supreme Court in San Juan. Public forums will focus on the effects of Puerto Rico’s sodomy law, progress in the legal challenge and additional options for repealing the law. Attorneys from the ACLU’s New York-based Lesbian & Gay Rights Project will speak at several gatherings with leading Puerto Rican gay rights activists and local ACLU leaders.

“This is an important week in Puerto Rico’s history. For a long time, gay issues have not been publicly discussed here,” said Janice Gutierrez-Lacourt, Executive Director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. “However uncomfortable some people here may be with lesbians and gay men, they are even more uncomfortable with the government invading the most personal and private aspects of their lives. We believe Puerto Ricans are ready to get rid of this law, and so is our Supreme Court.”

Earlier this year, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court reversed itself and announced that it will hear the ACLU’s challenge to the sodomy law, which bars any private, consensual sexual contact between people of the same sex – as well as certain forms of intimacy between any adults. The Court has not yet scheduled oral arguments in the case, which will mark the first time in history it has weighed gay rights.

Gutierrez-Lacourt said the sodomy law is a “clear danger” to lesbians and gay men in Puerto Rico. For example, the lead plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, Rev. Margarita Sanchez, was threatened with arrest in 1998 while testifying against an anti-gay bill in the Puerto Rico legislature. The following year, an appeals court ruled that Puerto Rico’s domestic violence law does not apply to lesbians and gay men because the sodomy statute “makes homosexual conduct a crime.”

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