BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – In her first state-of-the-union
address since becoming Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda signalled her intent
to reverse several of her predecessor's policies, including so-called indecency laws.
"Some laws which were duly passed by the august
house . . . will be repealed as a matter of urgency . . . these include the
provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts," Banda reportedly said May 18.
The BBC is reporting that Banda has support for the move
from a majority of parliamentarians but will likely face opposition from the
African country's church leaders and the wider society.
In 2010, two Malawians, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge
Chimbalanga, were sentenced to 14-year jail terms for "gross indecency and
unnatural acts" after getting engaged. In the wake of international
condemnation, the late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, who said the couple had "committed a crime against our culture, against our religion and against our laws" pardoned them on "humanitarian grounds."
Monjeza and Chimbalanga were put on notice by the
then-minister of gender and children that the pardon didn't mean they could
resume their relationship.
From the outset, media reports referred to Monjeza and
Chimbalanga as a gay couple, but Chimbalanga, also known as "Aunt Tiwo," is quoted in a February 2010 New York Times report as saying, "Inside I am a
complete woman." She had reportedly filed for asylum in Canada.
President Banda's decision to move for repeal is an
anomaly on the African continent, where most countries criminalize gay sex.
South Africa is the only country where same-sex marriage is legally recognized, and discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited in the constitution that came into effect in 1997.