Botswana court decriminalises homosexuality in landmark judgment

Gay pride flag

Botswana joined a number of other African countries in legalizing gay sex on Tuesday.

Nearly five months after Angola adopted a new penal code that decriminalizes homosexuality, another African country, Botswana, has followed suit, discarding its colonial-era law that frowns on consensual same-sex relations.

Stating that the law was unconstitutional, the High Court said that human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalised.

The judgment contrasts with the decision of the Kenyan High Court, which less than three weeks ago ruled against campaigners seeking to overturn a law banning gay sex.

Activists had launched a legal battle after the Home Affairs Ministry rejected an application to register Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) organization; this as the country's appeal court ruled that the government was wrong for refusing to register the organization.

More than two dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa have laws criminalising gay sex. This section of the penal code includes as an offense "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature", and carries a maximum sentence of seven years.

The news follows a major setback for the LGBT community in Kenya last month, when that country's high court voted to uphold similar parts of its penal code after being widely expected to strike them down. The wording resembles that of the laws of many other former British colonies where homosexuality is illegal.

The judge also stressed that "Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement".

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Coordinator of Botswana's prominent LGBTQ rights group Legabibo, Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, similarly told CNN that the High Court's verdict will assist LGBTQ individuals in getting healthcare and treatment more freely.

"The state can not be a sheriff in people's bedrooms", Leburu said. "The real work starts now", she said.

"Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected", Masisi said.

Neighboring Tanzania a year ago appointed a task force to enforce its laws against same-sex relations.

"This is a landmark decision that should free lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Botswana from the range of discriminatory sanctions and practices arising from these highly problematic provisions in the Penal Code", the High Commissioner said.

Botswana's high court has struck down laws decriminalizing gay sex, in place since 1965.

Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have scrapped anti-gay laws in recent years.

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