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Gay Wedding Stirs Controversy in Senegal

  • Naomi Schwarz

After photos of a reported marriage ceremony between two men were published in a local magazine in Senegal, politicians, journalists and religious leaders are weighing in on their views about homosexuality. Many say laws against homosexuality have not been sufficiently enforced, but others say the issue is being exploited. For VOA, Naomi Schwarz has more from Dakar.

In the weeks since a monthly magazine published photos of what it said was a marriage ceremony between two men in Senegal, the issue of homosexuality has been all over the news in the largely Islamic country.

On a nighttime television talk show, a representative from the government responded to accusations it is not taking the issue seriously enough.

On call-in shows, many Senegalese are expressing shock over the reported gay marriage and the presence of homosexuals in the country. Some link homosexuals to the spread of AIDS and accuse the gay community of pedophilia. Human rights and homosexuality activists say both claims are unfounded.

The editor of the magazine that reported the gay marriage received death threats from some of the men in the published photographs. Several of the men in the photos were arrested in connection with the incident but were released without charge, sparking outrage among some politicians.

On the street, the same attitude against homosexuals prevails.

Sitting among women selling dried flowers and couscous on a Dakar street, Khady Diouf, a laundry woman and mother of five, makes a slashing motion across her throat when asked how she would react if one of her children told her he or she is gay.

The Muslim woman says she believes God does not approve of being gay.

Religious leaders in Senegal are spreading the message that homosexuality, which is illegal in the country, is against Islamic tradition.

The leader of Dakar's biggest downtown mosque organized a mass protest against homosexuality. He said the release of men arrested in connection with the reported gay wedding shows the government is not enforcing laws against homosexuality.

Offenders can receive up to five years in jail, but arrests are rare.

At another Dakar mosque, worshippers signed a petition calling on the government to enforce, on television and in the news, what it says are Senegal's traditional morals.

Adama Mboup, a businessman and one of the petition's organizers, says homosexuality reflects the decline of traditional social and religious values.

But Senegalese human rights activist Alioune Tine says the issue is being exploited by media outlets aiming for larger profits.

"When newspapers make this kind of sensational news, the newspaper is bought by people," said Tine.

He says the issue with the pictures of the gay wedding sold the most copies in the magazine's history. But he says the wedding was not news.

"The events happened in 2006. It was private and the wedding [was] very symbolic. You have no mayor, no preacher, no imam," he said.

He says the government should protect the privacy rights of homosexuals, as it would any other minority. But he says with upcoming local elections, some opposition politicians with ties to religious fundamentalist groups are using the issue to rile up supporters. These opposition politicians have accused the government of not upholding what they say are the country's religious values, and some have accused unnamed prominent members of the ruling party of being homosexual.