Following the ground-breaking decision by the Supreme Court to recognise same-sex marriages solemnised outside Namibia, a wave of opposition has surged across the nation as anti-gay sentiment from religious and political leaders unites to protest against the court's verdict.
The ruling, which marked a significant step towards LGBTQ+ rights in the country, has revealed deep divisions within society regarding the recognition of same-sex unions.
The matter stemmed from the residency applications of a German woman who married a Namibian woman in Germany, and a South African man who married a Namibian man in South Africa, the only country on the continent allowing same-sex marriage. In a judgement delivered last Tuesday, four judges declared that the denial of an official recognition by the Ministry of Home Affairs to same-sex marriages, conducted outside Namibia, violates the constitutional rights to equality and dignity.
The court declared that the marriages of the two couples should be acknowledged in Namibia. Furthermore, the court affirmed that the non-Namibian partner in each union should be recognised as the spouse of their Namibian partner under the Immigration Control Act of the country.
As a result of this judgement, non-Namibian spouses in same-sex marriages are granted the same rights of residence in Namibia which are typically granted to spouses in heterosexual marriages.
In response to this judgement, the Secretary of the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) Ephraim Nekongo has come out guns blazing, saying the country's laws currently do not allow for the recognition of same-sex marriages, leading to doubts about the compatibility of the court's decision.
Although he acknowledged the independence and authority of the courts in adjudicating matters, he emphasised that they are bound to interpret and apply existing laws.
"The Namibian constitution and the will of the majority of the Namibian people must therefore be respected. It is clear that this judgement has undermined our sacred identity as a country and a people," he said in a statement.
Nekongo furthermore expressed his opposition to what he interpreted as a cultural imperialism agenda imposed by foreign entities.
He urged the government to assert Namibians' ability to shape their own destiny, particularly in light of the sacrifices made during the struggle for independence. He also emphasised that most Namibians do not acknowledge or approve of same-sex marriages or homosexuality.
"Homosexuality has no basis in our laws, both written and unwritten. The Swapo Party-led government should, therefore, avoid being complicit in advancing the demonic agenda of the dark forces that seek to undermine our principles, our culture and every moral fibre upon which the functionality of our society is premised," he continued.
The Elders Council of the ruling party is in alignment with Nekongo's statement. Secretary Mukwaita Shanyengana echoed the sentiments that Namibian laws do not acknowledge same-sex marriages.
"The Supreme Court cannot apply the law that is in contradiction with the law of the land, just to appease and comply
with some foreign laws in some jurisdictions which attack the moral and judicial existence of our nation," he charged, adding that the judgement is blasphemy and must therefore be condemned.
Various religious groups have also aired their opposition to the ruling. Meanwhile, official opposition leader McHenry Venaani said the Popuar Democratic Movement (PDM) does not endorse or support the officiating of LGBTQI+ marriages.
However, he emphasised that the PDM supports the human rights of LGBTQI+ groups, as enshrined in the national constitution.
"The power to legalise or prohibit gay marriages lies with the parliament. The legislature, specifically the National Assembly and the National Council, possesses the authority to give credibility to such unions. Therefore, if LGBTQI+ communities seek to have their marriages recognised, they must engage in advocacy and lobby the legislature", Venaani said in an interview with New Era.
He stressed that society's role in governing itself lies primarily with the legislature, regardless of personal agreement or disagreement on the matter. Moreover, Venaani revealed that the PDM has already prepared a motion to be presented in the National Assembly. This motion will prompt a debate on how society should respond to LGBTQI+-related matters.
He gave the assurance that the party is not avoiding the issue, and that a member of parliament will deliver a position that
they deem suitable for parliamentary discussion.
Up in arms
Allies opposed to the LGBTQI+ community have been mobilising through WhatsApp groups to organise protests against the verdict.
One such group, titled "Namibia national anti-gay marriage demonstration," which had close to 1 000 members by yesterday, has advised its members to sign a petition.
The petition's purpose is to urge the government to enact legislation prohibiting same-sex marriages in Namibia.
The signed petitions will be submitted to the ministry of home affairs and parliament during a planned protest, the details of which are expected to be communicated today.
Over the weekend, police spokesperson Kauna Shikwambi said the office of the police chief has not received any information regarding the protest.
Activist Omar van Reenen yesterday told New Era, "Yes, the power to legalise such unions does lay with parliament, but the power to ensure all Namibians are treated equal under the Constitution lays with the Supreme Court.
The fact of the matter is that same-sex couples who marry abroad are not granted the same rights that heterosexual couples receive. And that unequal treatment is unconstitutional. It is the Supreme Court's job to ensure that all minority groups are free from discrimination, and parliament's lack of action to create a just society shows how important it is for the courts to step in when our laws continue to marginalise a vulnerable group."
Van Reenen said since independence, parliament has shown little care to end the human rights' abuses queer Namibians face.
"They've pushed the Law Reform and Development Commission's (LRDC) report to repeal the sodomy law under the rug. Parliament has allowed ministers to abuse public policy at the cost of taxpayers, and separate children from their parents, just because their fathers are gay. And parliament has ignored the Ombudsman's draft
Hate Speech Bill. So, parliament has shown its lack of care for sexual and gender minorities in Namibia," stressed Van Reenen.
"Namibians need to watch what is happening closely, and pay attention to the responses from our elected representatives. These are the people we have entrusted to take an oath of office and protect and defend the Constitution.
To witness members of parliament incite violence in WhatsApp groups and call for the rule of law to be overturned is dangerous. Let's remember that the Constitution was fought for to ensure no one lives in a Namibia where the laws continue to discriminate, based on one's social status," said Van Reenen, the founder of Equal Namibia.