As a beacon of resilience and advocacy for human rights, the LGBTIQ+ community is once again faced with an enormous hurdle to their freedom. On July 19, Namibia’s upper chamber of parliament passed a law criminalizing same-sex marriages, sparking outrage among the international LGBTIQ+ community and human rights organizations. This act is viewed as an unlawful assault on the rights and liberties of the LGBTIQ+ community in Namibia.
Passed without any opposition, the bill aims to dismantle a Supreme Court decision that recognized some unions formed overseas. However, for the law to take effect, it still needs the approval of the lower house and the signature of President Hage Geingob.
An appalling pronouncement made by Elder Filipe, a member of the ruling SWAPO party, underscores the societal prejudice embedded in the country’s legal system: “The marital union is between a man and a woman and that must be respected.” The law textually defines “marriage” as a union “between persons of opposite sexes” and “spouse” as “half of a legal union between two persons born genetically male and female”.
The legislation further states that same-sex marriages concluded overseas will not be recognized in Namibia. Disturbingly, anyone participating in, promoting, or marketing such a marriage would be liable to a sentence of up to six years in jail and a fine of approximately U.S.$6,700.
This echoes the country’s archaic sodomy legislation enacted in 1927. Despite the law being seldom applied, Namibia has been a battleground for numerous court disputes over same-sex couples’ rights to marry, have children, and immigrate.
Just last May, the country’s Attorney General, Festus Mbandeka, announced the government’s plan to conduct a legal assessment following the Supreme Court’s historic ruling to recognize same-sex marriages solemnised outside the country. The government expressed its intentions to tread cautiously, citing the “magnitude of this judgment and its wider legal implications”.
In an affirming step towards LGBTIQ+ rights, the Supreme Court of Namibia had previously recognized same-sex marriages between citizens and foreign partners. This progressive verdict overruled a 2022 High Court decision that refused to recognize same-sex unions contracted outside of Namibia. The ruling came after the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration denied permits to same-sex foreign spouses, prompting two Namibian nationals to seek judicial redress.
Unfortunately, this fresh wave of anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation isn’t limited to Namibia. Across the African continent, governments and religious groups continue to encroach on the basic human rights of LGBTIQ+ communities and restrict their access to essential services such as healthcare. Zambia’s government has openly declared its intolerance for the promotion of LGBTQI+ rights, claiming such rights conflict with the country’s Christian values. In Kenya, Catholic MPs have threatened to disband the NGO Board to stave off the potential registration of a gay rights lobby group.
Meanwhile, Burundi’s crackdown on LGBTQI+ rights continues, with 24 people recently charged with engaging in same-sex acts and inciting homosexuality. Similarly, in southern Africa, Anglican bishops have consented to formulate formal prayers tailored for same-sex civil unions, signaling a contentious, yet critical shift in religious attitudes towards the LGBTIQ+ community.