Namibia: Govt Puts Same-Sex Marriage Under Microscope

Most African countries have tough anti-gay laws.

Attorney general Festus Mbandeka said the government is conducting a legal assessment on the recent groundbreaking ruling of the Supreme Court to recognise same-sex marriages solemnised outside the country.

Mbandeka is the government's foremost legal advisor.

"Given the magnitude of this judgment and its wider legal implications, government is in the process of conducting a legal assessment of this constitutional ruling before determining the appropriate course of action within the available constitutional parameters," said Mbandeka in a press statement.

He said once that is done, an official response will be provided to the public at an appropriate time.

Mbandeka said although Namibia guarantees freedom of speech and expression, such rights must be exercised with caution in relation to the ruling.

He said it "must be done in a constructive, responsible and respectful manner that does not violate the rights of others and/or undermine the constitutional mandate of any of three branches of State".

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, 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.

As a result of this judgement, non-Namibian spouses in same-sex marriages are granted the same rights of residence in Namibia that are typically granted to spouses in heterosexual marriages.

Vipuakuje Muharukua of the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) rejected the judgement, saying it is against Namibia's ethos, wishes and aspirations.

"I respectfully disagree with the senior counsel and agree with Justice Mainga on the LGBTQ issue. Parliament must address the law and the constitution to reflect the values of Namibia and the direction in which Namibians want our society to go. Indeed, the call for a referendum in terms of the Electoral Act, 5 of 2014, is a valid one," Muharukua asserted.

His supremo, McHenry Venaani, echoed similar sentiments, maintaining the PDM neither endorses nor supports the officiating of LGBTQI+ marriages.

However, he emphasised that the PDM supports the human rights of LGBTQI+ groups, as etched in the 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.

Last week, President Hage Geingob refused to be drawn into the debate, electing to remain silent on the controversial ruling that has been praised and criticised in equal proportion.

Meanwhile, traditional leaders have come out guns blazing, saying the struggle for Namibia's independence was never for LGBTQ+ rights.

Last week, the Council of Traditional Leaders joined the chorus, condemning what they termed "same-sex marriage and LGBTQ campaign".

"The court, with this ruling, has shown utmost disregard for the essence of our traditions, dignified culture and values," the council's chairperson, chief Immanuel /Gaseb stated.

More so, eight northern traditional authorities added their voice against what they termed an "interference of Western culture into Namibian culture".

They also called on the head of state and parliament to nullify the decision, and the Supreme Court to revise its decision.

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