Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Botswana decriminalizes gay sex in landmark case

POSSIBLE APPEAL:The High Court ruled that the right to privacy includes the right to choose a partner and that sexual orientation is not a ‘fashion statement’


Advocates celebrate outside the High Court in Gaborone on Tuesday as Botswana became the latest nation to decriminalize gay sex.

Photo: AP

Botswana on Tuesday became the latest nation to decriminalize gay sex, a landmark case for Africa, as the High Court rejected laws punishing it with up to seven years in prison.

Advocates in the packed courtroom cheered the unanimous decision that came less than a month after Kenya’s High Court upheld similar sections of its own penal code.

“Botswana is the ninth country in the past five years to have decriminalized consensual same-sex relationships,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at UN headquarters in New York City. “Consensual same-sex sexual relationships remain criminalized in at least 67 countries and territories worldwide.”

More than two dozen nations in sub-Saharan Africa have laws criminalizing gay sex, often holdovers from colonial times.

Earlier this year, Angola decriminalized same-sex activity and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Those arguing against the laws say that they leave LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination and abuse, while making it difficult to access basic health and other services.

Botswana-based group the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), which supported the anonymous petitioner in the case, has said that such laws “infringe on basic human dignity.”

People in the courtroom were ecstatic, leaping up, clapping and ululating, LEGABIBO legal policy director Caine Youngman said.

When the judges said that the right to privacy includes the right to choose a partner, “it hit home,” he said.

“I’m a gay man. I’ve been out for many years. Now I can live with my partner without worry,” Youngman said, adding that the state might appeal “to appease the homophobes” and has 30 working days to do so.

The ruling led to rejoicing from rights groups that had expressed frustration with the Kenyan decision last month, including ones in nations such as Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana where gay sex remains illegal.

Botswana’s High Court said in its ruling that penalizing people for who they are is disrespectful and discriminatory, and that the law should not deal with private acts between consenting adults.

Sexual orientation is innate and not a “fashion statement,” the judges said. “Any criminalization of love or finding fulfillment in love dilutes compassion and tolerance.”

The ruling cited decriminalization in India and elsewhere, and pointed out that all three arms of Botswana’s government have expressed the need to protect the rights of the gay community.

Before the ruling, LEGABIBO shared a comment attributed to Motswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi: “There are also many people of same-sex relationships in this country who have been violated and have also suffered in silence for fear of being discriminated. Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected.”

The judges cited the president’s comment in their ruling.

Botswana in the past few years has taken other steps toward protecting LGBT rights.

The High Court in 2017 ruled that the government should issue a transgender man documentation reflecting his identity, and in 2016 an appeals court ruled that LEGABIBO could register as a nonprofit.

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