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Toronto lawyer challenges Jamaica's anti-homosexuality law

A Canadian-based lawyer is defying death threats and the prospect of being arrested in his native Jamaica by returning home this week to launch a constitutional challenge of the country’s anti-homosexuality law.

Gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson says he has faced death threats in his native country

Fighting the Jamaican law that criminalizes being gay 5:47

A Canadian-based lawyer is defying death threats and the prospect of being arrested in his native Jamaica by returning home this week to launch a constitutional challenge of the country's anti-homosexuality law.

Maurice Tomlinson says he feared for his safety and left Jamaica four years ago after a local newspaper published a photo of the gay rights activist with his Canadian husband, resulting in threats against his life.

"The last time I had a death threat and I reported it to police, the officer said that he hates gays and they make him sick," Tomlinson said, adding that he feels he's viewed by Jamaica's legal system as an unapprehended criminal.

Under Jamaican law, consensual sex between men is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, hard labour and the official designation of sex offender.  

Tomlinson says the law, which has been in place since 1864, was made worse in 2011, when additional measures were introduced requiring those convicted to carry a pass that identifies them as an offender or face an additional 12 months in prison and a $1 million fine.

"When I come back to Jamaica, I feel like a prisoner," he said.

"It's very tense and I don't exhale until I board the plane to go back to Canada."

Proceedings in Tomlinson's constitutional challenge are being heard in the Supreme Court of Jamaica starting Tuesday, one day ahead of the country's general election.

Several religious groups that support Jamaica's anti-sodomy laws have applied to sit as interested parties in the court proceedings.

Tomlinson, who now works as a senior legal counsel with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in Toronto, follows a strict security protocol when he returns home and agreed to speak with CBC News at an undisclosed location.

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