Gabon repeals law criminalizing homosexuality
Lawmakers of Gabon have voted to decriminalize homosexuality in their country, repealing a 2019 law that made consensual same-sex sexual relations as illegal.
The repealing law was ratified by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, which will make that nation one of the few countries in Africa to reverse a ban on same-sex relationships.
Gabon repeals the 2019 law
The government didn’t explain the this move to revise the 2019 law. The bill was supported by the National Assembly and then was passed by their Senate in a closed-door session.
The repeal of the 2019 law, which criminalized same-sex relationships with a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a 5 million Central African CFA franc fine, was pushed by Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale.
Speaking to Reuters, Jessye Ella Ekogha, a spokesman for Gabon’s presidency, said the law “was adopted with a large majority of 59 votes” versus 17 senators voting against it and four abstaining.
However, the new law is dividing the country as broad views on homosexuality regard it as taboo. Some politicians and religious authorities, including the Catholic archdiocese in Libreville, were against the repeal.
In a statement, the archdiocese said, “In the name of the wisdom of our ancestors, contained in our various cultures, which celebrates life, love, family, we say no to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.”
Still a work in progress in Gabon
Bekale welcomed the bill, saying he was against “the stigmatization of homosexuals” despite of his religious beliefs.
Gabon First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba aired her support for the bill: ““Parliament has restored a fundamental human right for its citizens: that of loving, freely, without being condemned. Say yes to dignity and no to hate.”
While Gabon has decriminalized homosexuality, same-sex marriage is still not allowed in that country.
Further, before the vote, Gabon was among the 73 countries or jurisdictions around the world that criminalize homosexuality.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 28 out of 49 countries have laws against homosexuality.
Moreover, Human Rights Watch warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased stigma against the LGBTQ community in parts of the region.
New law draws praise from rights groups
The repeal of the 2019 law by the Gabonese nation was lauded by international organizations and LGBTQ rights groups.
Victoria Vasey, legal chief of the Human Dignity Trust, said Gabon joins other African states that “have chosen to rid their lawbooks of archaic provisions which enable discrimination, violence, and harassment against LGBT people.”
Meanwhile, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said with this move, “Gabon is righting a grave injustice inflicted on the LGBTI community in the country.”
“Today’s historic signing of a law decriminalizing same-sex relations in Gabon is a pivotal moment in the global fight for LGBTQ rights,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David.
OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern said Gabon’s decision is “an affirmation of the right of LGBTQ people in Gabon to love whom they choose,” as well as an inspiration to others still fighting for this right.