Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Anti-Gay Laws Are Political Boon across Africa

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Anti-Gay Laws Are Political Boon across Africa

Article excerpt

Uganda's president recently approved a controversial law further criminalizing homosexuality and imposing strict sentences for aspects of homosexuality and on those who fail to report gay people to authorities. The country is the latest in a series of African nations to toughen such laws. Here's a look at the range, and at reactions.

Q: Many countries in Africa are culturally conservative. Is homosexuality illegal throughout the continent?

There is no law against it in 16 of the continent's 54 countries, including Rwanda, Gabon, Chad, Cape Verde, Mali, and the Republic of Congo. In South Africa, same-sex couples have been able to adopt children since 2002, and have had marriage rights equal to those of heterosexual couples since 2006. The island nations of Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Seychelles have promised to scrap laws against being gay. But more countries are moving in the other direction, inking new legislation further criminalizing homosexuality. According to Amnesty International, the 38 African countries that now outlaw being gay represent close to half of the 78 nations the United Nations says ban homosexuality worldwide.

Q: Where have the laws become more harsh?

Most recently in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni assented to the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 on Feb. 24. It imposes life sentences on people found guilty of repeated gay sex, and jail terms for "aiding and abetting" or "promoting homosexuality." Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's president, signed into law a similar act in January that introduced 14-year sentences for gay marriage and 10- year terms for gay people seen kissing in public, or anyone operating or visiting a gay club or society. Liberia in 2012 toughened penalties for same-sex conduct. Burundi criminalized it for both men and women in 2009. South Sudan ensured gay sex was outlawed from the outset, criminalizing it in its Constitution at independence in 2011. In Mauritania, the Islamic north of Nigeria, and southern Somalia, a person can be sentenced to death for being gay.

Q: What has been the reaction to the new laws internationally?

Beyond Africa's shores, and especially in the Western countries that give the most aid to the continent, there has been near- universal condemnation of the new laws. Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands immediately stalled aid to Uganda over its new act. …

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