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Botswana Legalizes Homosexuality in Landmark Court Ruling

“Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement," the High Court judge said in his decision. "It is an important attribute of one’s personality.”

by Tim Marcin
Jun 11 2019, 12:34pm

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Gay rights advocates in Botswana won a landmark victory on Tuesday, when Botswana’s High Court ruled that colonial-era anti-gay laws were unconstitutional, effectively legalizing homosexuality. The laws had previously carried a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized,” Judge Michael Leburu said as he delivered a unanimous ruling, according to the Guardian. “Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.”

“It is not the business of the law to regulate the private behavior of two consenting adults,” Judge Leburu continued.

Botswana, a country with a population of about 2.3 million, is considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies. With Tuesday's decision, it became the first African country to legalize homosexuality via the courts, according to the Washington Post.

“This is a historic ruling for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Botswana,” said Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS executive director, in a statement. “It restores privacy, respect and dignity to the country’s LGBT people, and it is a day to celebrate pride, compassion and love.”

A number of African nations, like Botswana, inherited British penal codes as a result of colonization. Homosexuality is criminalized in more than half of all African countries — and in Sudan, as well as parts of Nigeria and Somalia, it is punishable by death. A Kenyan high court recently heard a case similar to Botswana’s but dismissed it.

In recent years, LGBT advocates in Botswana have earned a few other key victories, including laws that made it easier for trans people to change their official gender on documents. President Mokgweetsi Masisi also voiced his support for LGBT people in November after a transgender woman was beaten by a mob.

"There are many people in same sex relationships in this country who have been violated and have also suffered in silence for fear of being discriminated,” he said, according to CNN. “Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected."

Cover: Activists celebrate outside the High Court in Gaborone, Botswana, Tuesday June 11, 2019. Botswana became the latest country to decriminalize gay sex when the High Court rejected as unconstitutional sections of the penal code that punish same-sex relations with up to seven years in prison. (AP Photo)