News / Africa

Malawians Debate Legalizing Gay Marriage

Rights campaigners say current laws against gays are a violation of human rights

Lameck Masina

In late December, two gay men held an engagement ceremony – and were promptly arrested. The event prompted a public debate over the legalization of homosexuality.

Sections 153 and 156 of the country’s penal code outlaw sexual intercourse between people of the same sex.  But some human rights campaigners argue that the laws contravene the constitution and international conventions that guarantee equality and non-discrimination regardless of sexual orientation.

Section 20 of the Malawi Constitution says discrimination against persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination because of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status.

Crispin Sibande, a human rights lawyer for the Malawi Human Rights Commission, says he thinks the phrase “other status” includes sexual orientation.  He also describes the penal code as inconsistent with the Constitution, which deplores any form of discrimination. 

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza are taken into custody after celebrating their engagement
Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza are taken into custody after celebrating their engagement

“We have to change the law," he says, "mainly [to] conform to our penal code. When we allow homosexuals to come out in the open, we promote their right to health.  We will make sure these people are accessing health services in terms of going through HIV testing and accessing treatment [if they are HIV-positive]. 

"They should be able to go the hospital and get treatment without being worried about whether the doctor will ask how [they] got this infection.”  

Human rights law vs. tradition

But traditional leaders say allowing homosexuality would violate the country’s traditional values, which regard the practice as a taboo.  But Sibande says as long as gay people live without violating other people’s rights, there is nothing wrong.

"I don’t think that is correct," he says.  "I will give an example: in Malawi it was a taboo for a woman to put on trousers.  It was a taboo for a woman to put on a miniskirt.  But over the time we have debated these things and we have moved [away] from that. 

"Now, homosexuals, in my understanding, are not demanding any extra rights.  We are simply saying the same rights that everybody is enjoying; let those rights [be] enjoyed by them.  Let them be accepted in…society.”

Malawi’s main religions are Islam and Christianity and in both religions same sex marriage is a sin.

Some religious leaders, like Apostle Felix Zalimba, the leader of the All for Jesus church, say homosexuality is immoral and that two people of the same sex can’t have sex and be accepted in society.

“It is the question of saying what the Bible," explains Zalimba.  "The Bible is very explicit that homosexuality is not only a sin but also an abomination.”

Undule Mwakasungura is the executive director of the local NGO Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation.

“We strongly need to consider the human rights and freedom of gay people," says Mwakasungura, "so that they can enjoy the rights to equality before the law, and this should be done through amending our laws to accommodate groups such as gays. HIV-aids cannot be achieved without recognizing the groups such as the gay citizens.”

Ambokile Salimu, a legal expert,  says "there are two alternatives to end this debate: referring the matter to the constitutional court or by holding a referendum - a broader approach to how the nation would address itself to the question of whether to legalize it or not, [where] people would vote on the issue.”

Several international rights groups have also added their voices to the debate.  Amnesty International has accused the country of failing to respect international treaties it has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights.

Government officials have responded by saying Malawi is a sovereign state with its own laws and values.  They say they did not realize that signing such agreements would also mean protecting the rights of gay people.

Ambivalence over public disclosure

The existence of homosexuals in the country is not in dispute, though their exact numbers are not known.  In 2009, an online newspaper, Nyasatimes, reported on the formation of an association called the Malawi Gay Rights Movement.

But Malawi has long been hostile to gays.  In 2005, the Anglican Church in Malawi rejected the appointment of a British vicar, Rev. Nicholas Henderson, as the bishop-elect of the Lake Malawi diocese.  The church said it based its decision on his support for gay rights.

In this atmosphere, it is difficult to find anyone to publicly admit to being a homosexual in Malawi. They fear they will be ostracized at work and among family and friends.  Many (gays) say they would rather have people assume without certainty that they are gay than confirm it themselves.

Most Malawians say that even if the law is repealed it will take a very long time for gays to be accepted because social attitudes are so slow to change.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid