Malawi's First Female President Is Down with Gay Rights

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You might remember Joyce Banda from when she was sworn in as Malawi's first female head of state in April, and now from when she's announced she's planning on repealing the country's laws against homosexuality in her first state of the nation address. 

Banda said in her speech that, "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 will be repealed as a matter of urgency...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." In order to repeal the laws against homosexuality, a repeal would need to pass a parliamentary vote in the conservative nation. The BBC is reporting that, while the move will be unpopular with local religious leaders, Banda has the support of enough MPs that the vote should pass. 

Malawi has a complicated history with gay rights. In 2010, the country was criticized after two men were sentenced to fourteen years in prison for announcing they were going to get married. After a storm of bas press for the country, Bingu wa Mutharika, who preceded Banda as Malawi's president, pardoned the couple on "humanitarian grounds only," but said they "committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws". Malawians weren't all that sad to see him go. 

Homosexuality is criminalized in 37 countries in Africa, which makes Banda's announcement even more bold when you consider Malawi is hosting an African Union summit in July. "It has come at the right time as the African Union is coming to attend a summit in Malawi. This sends a good message to the African heads of state who will attend," Gift Trapence, executive director of the Centre for the Development of People, told The Guardian.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.