New Zimbabwean constitution to include same-sex marriage ban

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe entered into a power-sharing government with his chief rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, after violent elections in 2008. Now the two sides have agreed on a draft constitution, according to AFP, which got a peek at the draft on Monday. And along with limiting presidential terms and stripping the executive of prosecutorial immunity, the draft document would ban same-sex marriage.

The draft, according to the AFP report, states that “persons of the same sex are prohibited from marrying each other.”

The same-sex marriage issue became a cudgel used by the ruling party against the opposition during negotiations over the constitution, LGBT rights advocates have said. Mugabe attempted to put the opposition on the defensive by alleging that they were trying to include provisions legalizing same-sex marriage in the constitution. His government also stepped up harassment of LGBT activists in the country, including raiding the offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.

Public Eye’s Kapya Kaoma recently wrote that the anti-LGBT legislation is being crafted with help from the American conservative group American Center for Law and Justice, which opened an office in Zimbabwe in 2010. The group’s executive director, Jordan Sekulow, met with Mugabe’s vice president, John Nkomo, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, and other politicians during a visit to the country.



Malawi’s historic bride talks to AFP

AFP has published what it says is the first press interview with Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a trans woman who was jailed along with Steven Monjeza in Malawi after the couple held an engagement celebration in 2009. International pressure led to their pardon, and Chimbalanga fled to South Africa, where LGBT rights are protected by the constitution and same-sex marriage is legal. Monjeza is still in jail for an unrelated crime.

I’ll let you read the interview over at France 24 (it’s in English), but I want to note the article’s ambivalence on gender and sexuality terms. It’s the first time I’ve seen a press report clearly identifying Chimbalanga as a trans woman, not a gay man, which is how she was portrayed by the Malawian press. But the website goes out of its way to identify Monjeza as gay. A photo caption calls him her “gay husband.” (This is an especially interesting choice because after their release, Monjeza disavowed Chimbalanga and married a woman.)

Second, although the article refers to Chimbalanga as “she” throughout, there are only photos of her dressed as a man. I don’t know whose choice that was.

Catholic = Anti-Gay Marriage? Not quite.

Watching the post-election fallout while reporting on gay marriage in Latin America has been a little bizarre. With Latinos in the United States actually giving President Obama an even greater portion of their support this time around, there’s a lot of head-scratching from the pundits at home. Latinos are supposed to be Catholic, right? And Catholics aren’t supposed to like gay marriage, right? And that means they should punish Obama for his support of gay marriage, right?

The politics of the issue in Latin America presents a similar paradox. Despite the fact that most of Latin America is heavily Catholic—and increasingly evangelical in many places—the region is well ahead of the United States in recognizing same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

Even though there’s no sign that the church is fading as a political institution, it seems to have lost a lot of traction on this issue—among American Catholics, Latin American Catholics, and, well, European Catholics, too. (Spain and Portugal were among the first to legalize gay marriage, and France is also on its way. And, sure, Europe is more secular, but it’s still worth noting the trend.) Sometimes the courts are ahead of public opinion in pushing things along, but the countries’ Catholicness doesn’t seem to be putting major breaks on the issue.

In Latin America, it’s striking that the church is increasingly throwing its weight behind civil unions in order to head off marriage, a shift that suggests it recognizes all-out opposition is a losing proposition.

“It seems logical that two people of the same sex who care for each other and want to share their lives together can have some sort of civil acknowledgement, but it can’t be the same as what governs marriage,” Uruguay’s top bishop, Jaime Fuentes, said last week as the country’s congress debated the issue.

While the Catholic church remains an important institutional home for opposition to LGBT unions, when we look globally (and speaking in the most simplistic terms), Protestant and Muslim populations seem to be more pivotal demographics for the intensity of opposition to marriage.

A glance at this map from the Economist makes that pretty clear. Laws criminalizing homosexuality are found throughout Africa and the Middle East, but not so much where Catholics are the clearest majority.

In Uganda, for example, 42 percent of the population is Catholic, but another 42 percent is Protestant (mostly Anglican) and another 12 percent is Muslim.

And in Latin America, opposition to LGBT rights is generally strongest where the evangelical movement is strongest. Take the situation in Peru, where a backlash among evangelicals to Lima’s pro-LGBT mayor is driving a recall election.

The gap between what the church says and how this plays out politically is growing—fast. I wonder when that will stop coming as a surprise.

Christians and Muslims unite against gay marriage in Liberia

From The Associated Press:

A few hundred Liberians representing the Christian and Muslim faiths and civil society organizations gathered here Saturday to launch a campaign to press the government to ban same-sex marriage.

At Saturday’s anti-gay marriage rally, an outspoken clergy, representing the Liberia Council of Churches, Rudolph Marsh, lashed out at the influence of foreign powers.

“There are good things in America that we can copy,” he said, “we don’t have to copy the bad ones; let’s leave the bad ones with Americans.”

Marsh called on Liberian Christians and Muslims to remain united “and stand together and tell the world that Liberia is a place of civilized people and will not allow same-sex marriage.”

Malawian government in knots over sodomy

First President Joyce Banda wanted to repeal Malawi’s sodomy law, which was used to imprison a couple that held a public engagement ceremony in 2009.

Then she backtracked in the face of difficult elections, saying “Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now.”

Last week, Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara reversed Banda’s reversal at a forum organized by the Center for Development of People and the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, reportedly saying, “There is a moratorium on such laws, meaning that police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws. These laws will not be enforced until the time Parliament makes a decision.”

This was confirmed to me by the Center for Development of People’s Gift Trapence, who sent me an email saying, “He just said that President wants more debate on it and that no gay person will be arrested.”

But now Kasmabara has reversed his reversal of President Banda’s reversal, declaring Wednesday, “There was no such announcement, and there was no discussion about same-sex marriages.”

Malawi suspends sodomy law

Though Malawi’s president, Joyce Banda, recently backed down from her pledge to repeal the country’s sodomy law, there are reports this week that her government has suspended enforcement and the parliament is planning to consider the issue.

Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara said the moratorium on Malawi’s anti-gay laws, which see sexual conduct between men punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment, would remain in place until parliament voted on a new law.

In the meantime, police have been told not to arrest anyone engaged in homosexual activity.

“If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government,” he told Reuters. “It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail.”

Not sure yet what changed.

Africa’s bright hope dims?

While I’ve been reporting in Lima, there’s been big news from Africa.

While most reporting on LGBT issues in Africa usually focuses on countries tightening their anti-gay laws, Malawi has been the exception. When President Joyce Banda took office in April–after her predecessor’s sudden death–she announced that she wanted to repeal the country’s sodomy laws.

But last week, she announced that she’d drop the effort. She told the Associated Press:

Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realizes that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now. I as a leader have no right to influence how people feel…. Where Malawi is and most African countries are, is maybe where America or the U.K. where about 100 years ago…. The best thing the world can do is to allow each country to take its course, to allow each country to have that debate freely without the pressure of being pushed.

I don’t have the full story yet on what led to this reversal, but her words may say a lot. Banda faces elections in 2014, and gay rights advocates in the country were concerned that she would walk away from her commitment as election day approached. Gift Trapence, executive director of Malawi’s Centre for the Development of People, told me in July:

[Banda] is just coming into the government now plus the elections are just very soon 2014.  So I very pessimistic as to whether they’re going to make the decision to repeal the laws.   Continue reading