Gay Marriage (and Arrests) – in “The Warm Heart of Africa”

Back in the bad old days of Apartheid, White south Africans knew there were few places around the world that would welcome them with open arms – and even fewer in “Black” Africa. One notable exception was Malawi. With few natural resources beyond a beautiful lake and attractive climate, tourism was an obvious choice for economic development – and White South Africans an obvious target market. Fro many years, South Africans were accustomed to tourism advertisements using the slogan “Malawi – the Warm Heart of Africa”.

There was one problem: led by the staunchly conservative Dr Hastings Banda, Malawi imposed strict dress code. The vaunted “warm heart” did not extend to men with long hair or women in trousers, nor o any other social “non-conformists”. Times have changed, Dr Banda is long gone – but there is still no welcome for gay men or lesbians. Like its near neighbours Zimbabwe and Uganda, “homosexuality” is a criminal offence (under colonial era legislation). But the human spirit is strong, and sometimes brave.

Recently, even in the midst of world-wide attention over the proposed death penalty for homosexuality, two men went through a form of wedding in Uganda, fully accepting the publicity that went with it – and the clear associated risk. Now, in Malawi, there has been another gay “wedding” of two men.

When I first came out, back in Johannesburg twenty five years ago, South African society was deeply homophobic. yet I frequently heard, or even read in the newspapers, of male and female couples who were “marrying”, without benefit of legal or church recognition. Today, any SA couple has the choice of a full civil marriage or a civil partnership. In the USA, I frequently read of couples who years ago held private commitments in the absence of legal provisions, and subsequently went through a range o more formal ceremonies as the available options increased or got closer to home: domestic partner registers,stronger civil unions, Canadian or Massachusetts marriage, and finally (for some) home state marriage in Connecticut, Iowa, or Vermont.

It has been correctly stated that the best way to end an unjust law is to break it. In most of the world, same sex marriage has never been illegal – just not recognized. By arranging unrecognized unions, with or without accompanying church blessings, those early pioneers in South Africa, the USA and Europe helped to break down prejudice and paved the way for the advent of formal recognition, now making steady progress in so many countries. In Uganda and Malawi, as in many other countries of Africa and the Middle East, these brave pioneers have a steeper challenge and immeasurably greater risk. They have to overcome not just prejudice, but legislation with harsh penalties, against social attitudes which have become inflamed to outright hostility. They deserve our respect and thanks for what they are doing. As elsewhere, their cause will triumph eventually over injustice. Let us pray (literally) that they will be allowed to live to see it.

LILONGWE (Reuters) – Two Malawian men became the first gay couple to publicly tie the knot, the Nation newspaper reported on Monday, risking arrest in the conservative southern African state where homosexuality is illegal.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were married in a traditional but symbolic ceremony in southern Malawi on Saturday, attracting hundreds of curious onlookers.

“We met at church where we both pray and we have been together for the last five months … I have never been interested in a woman,” Monjeza told The Nation newspaper.

Homosexuality is banned in Malawi and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

“I have just read about it (the marriage) in the press and the law in Malawi does not allow such practice and therefore the law will have to take its course,” Attorney General Jane Ansah told Reuters.

Three years ago the Anglican Church sent pro-gay rights Bishop Nick Henderson to head a diocese in rural Malawi. The congregation did not accept him and protests led to the death of a church member.

See the full report at Reuters

Late UPDATE:

Malawi police arrest couple after gay wedding

Two Malawian men were arrested and charged with public indecency, police said on Tuesday, after becoming the first gay couple to marry in the conservative southern African state where homosexuality is illegal.

“We arrested them last night at their home and charged them with gross public indecency because the practice is against the law,” police spokesman, Dave Chingwalu, told Reuters.

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