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Gay Sex Decriminalised in Botswana

On Tuesday, June 11th, 2019, the high court in Botswana ruled to overturn two laws which had previously criminalized gay sex. The vote was unanimous and has effectively become a landmark case in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights in Africa. The laws were both passed in a colonial-era but were brought to light earlier this year by an anonymous plaintiff who chose to go only by L.M. in court. Being gay himself, L.M. wrote in a statement, “we are not looking for people to agree with homosexuality but to be tolerant.” With the somewhat changing opinions on the LGBTQ+ community, many in Botswana believed the laws should recognize their whole relationship as legal and just.

In section 164 of Botswana’s Penal Code, homosexual relations were considered as such under the heading of “unnatural offences”: “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The punishment of which could have been prison time of up to seven years. Section 167 is the other law in question which dealt with gross acts of indecency. The three judges ruling on the court case all agreed to overturn these laws while Justice Michael Elburu even said, “A democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness.”

With the ruling of the court on Tuesday, Botswana became one of the first African countries to decriminalize gay sex and followed behind Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles in overturning anti-gay, homophobic laws. South Africa, in 1998, became the first African nation to legalize homosexuality and, in 2006, legalized gay marriage. This is an example of more progressive action on the continent. Despite the advances of the aforementioned countries, more than 30 of the 54 countries in Africa remain with anti-homosexual laws upheld by the government. In May of this year, Kenya’s high court upheld laws criminalizing gay sex. This ruling remained consistent with the conservative nature of many of Africa’s countries in relation to LGBTQ+ rights.

The treatment of gay people in many African countries is still largely discriminatory and highly dangerous. There are parts of the continent, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, where being gay can be punishable by death. A study from 2016 found that the majority of people polled across 33 countries were intolerant of homosexuality. The tolerance level, though, does vary greatly by country as Africa tends to be quite diverse when it comes to certain controversies. The victory in Botswana must serve as an example to those countries left that have not legalized homosexuality and recognized the rights of all people as being equal, despite sexual orientation.

Photo: Flikr

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Isabella is a 17 year old full IB diploma candidate who is passionate about this world. When she is not writing, she is probably studying biology, watching M*A*S*H, or playing with her dog, Teddy. @bxllabee

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