Botswana’s High Court on Tuesday overturned the colonial-era law criminalising consensual same-sex relations in a landmark judgement for the African continent’s LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community, The New York Times reported.
“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalised,” Judge Michael Leburu said while delivering the judgement. “Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.” The judge added called the laws that banned gay sex discriminatory.
Three judges voted unanimously to revoke the laws, which they said conflicted with Botswana’s Constitution.
An unnamed applicant had challenged two sections of the code that threaten offenders with a jail sentence. “We are not looking for people to agree with homosexuality but to be tolerant,” the written statement of the applicant said, according to The New York Times.
The ruling comes less than a month after Kenya’s High Court upheld laws criminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults.
Out of 54 African countries, at least 32 of them have enacted laws making it illegal to have gay sex, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. In several northern African nations, including Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan, homosexuality is punishable by death; offenders in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda face life in prison.
In one of Africa’s most stable, democratic nations – Botswana – homosexual acts were outlawed under the country’s penal code of 1965. Section 164 said that: “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature,” was an offense that carried a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment. Section 167 made “acts of gross indecency” – whether in public or private – a punishable offense, with up to two years in prison.
Challenges to strike down these laws have received positive response in other countries. Recently, Bhutan’s National Assembly voted to scrap the law criminalising homosexual relations. Last month, Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage in a landmark vote that made it the first Asian country to adopt such a legislation. India’s Supreme Court had in September last year struck down a colonial-era legislation which criminalised “unnatural sex”.