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Namibia Supreme Court rules government must recognize same-sex marriages from abroad

Plaintiff couples sought spousal immigration rights

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(Bigstock photo)

A landmark ruling the Supreme Court of Namibia issued on Tuesday ruled that same-sex marriages conducted outside the southern African country should be recognized by the Namibian government. 

Two same-sex couples have emerged victorious in their fight for the recognition of their marriages conducted outside Namibia in a ruling that paves the way for equal rights and spousal immigration benefits for same-sex couples in the country.

The joint cases, initially brought before the court in March, involved South African national Daniel Digashu who is married to Namibian citizen Johann Potgieter, and German national Anita Seiler-Lilles, who is married to Namibian citizen Anette Seiler. 

The couples aimed to access essential spousal immigration rights, including permanent residence and employment authorization.

Both couples expressed relief following the ruling. 

“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of our shoulders. I feel that I can continue with life now, in a sense,” Digashu said. “I cannot explain just how relieved I am that we won’t have to make plans to leave. Now we can stop for a moment and breathe, and take things easy and just know that we are home and there is no potential of being forced to leave.”

For her part, Seiler said after a sleepless night in anticipation of the ruling, she and her wife look forward to celebrating a dream come true. 

“We are married and we promised each other that we will stay together no matter what and that promise we’ve upheld through this fight for this recognition of our marriage,” Seiler said. “We would’ve stayed together no matter what but we can stay together here in this beautiful country and we can make it our home country. That was Anita’s biggest wish and that’s my wish as well, and now this wish comes true. It’s so incredible.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling challenged a previous precedent set by the Immigration Selection Board. While acknowledging the binding nature of the precedent, the court asserted that it can depart from its own decisions if they are proven to be clearly wrong.

The court ruled that the Home Affairs and Immigration Ministry’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages validly concluded outside Namibia violates the constitutional rights of the affected parties.

Furthermore, the court emphasized that the rights to dignity and equality are interconnected, and the denial of recognition for same-sex marriages undermines these fundamental principles. It reaffirmed the principle that if a marriage is lawfully concluded in accordance with the requirements of a foreign jurisdiction, it should be recognized in Namibia.

This ruling represents a significant milestone in the fight for LGBTQ and intersex rights in Namibia. By expanding the interpretation of the term “spouse” in the Immigration Control Act to include same-sex spouses legally married in other countries, the court has taken a crucial step toward achieving equality and inclusivity.

One of the five judges who heard the two appeals dissented from the majority ruling. 

He argued that Namibia is under no obligation to recognize marriages that are inconsistent with its policies and laws, emphasizing the traditional understanding of marriage and the protection of heteronormative family life.

The dissenting opinion highlights the ongoing divisions and complexities surrounding the issue of marriage equality in the country. While it underscores the need for continued dialogue and debate, the majority decision in favor of recognizing same-sex marriages highlights the importance of constitutional rights and the principle of equality. 

Southern African Litigation Center Executive Director Anneke Meerkotter commended the court’s decision. 

“The Namibian Supreme Court has set an important example, interpreting legislation in accordance with the core principles of constitutional interpretation and independent adjudication, thus avoiding irrelevant considerations relating to public opinion and unfounded allegations raised by the government about public policy,” Meerkotter said. “Instead, the court steered the argument back to the history of discrimination in Africa and the necessary constitutional reforms that emphasized transition to dignity and equality without discrimination.”

Speaking on what the ruling means for the LGBTQ and intersex community in Namibia, Seiler said it provides hope and inspiration not only to the couples involved but also to the broader community in Namibia and on the continent. 

“We know that we fought this battle not only for us. In the beginning we were fighting it for us, but then we realized it’s not only for us, it’s for other people as well. I’m glad that we did it, that we fought this fight,” she said. 

Both Seiler and Digashu said the support of the LGBTQ and intersex community and its allies has been a pillar of strength over the 6-year battle with the courts. 

“It has always been about the community because we deserve to have it all without being put down or being told this is not allowed. So, I think this is a big win for the community as a whole. It’s not about us, or just our families. It’s for absolutely everyone!” Digashu said.

Omar van Reenen, co-founder of Equal Namibia, a youth-led social movement for equality, said the ruling has strengthened the promise of equality and freedom from discrimination in the country. 

“The Supreme Court really made a resounding decision. It just feels like our existence matters — that we belong and that our human dignity matters,” he said. “The Supreme Court … has upheld the most important thing today and that is the constitution’s promise that everyone is equal before the law and that the rights enshrined in our preamble reign supreme, and equality prevails.” 

As the Supreme Court is the highest court in Namibia, decisions made in this court are binding on all other courts in the country unless it is reversed by the Supreme Court itself or is contradicted if Parliament passes a law that is enacted.

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Uganda tightens grip on LGBTQ rights groups

Yoweri Museveni on July 16 dissolved country’s National Bureau of NGOs

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LGBTQ activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. Yoweri Museveni, the country's president, has signed a bill that tightens the grip on LGBTQ groups and other NGOs in the country. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

The licensing, operation, and funding of LGBTQ organizations and other human rights groups in Uganda will now be under the government’s strict supervision.

President Yoweri Museveni on July 16 signed the Non-Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Act, 2024, that dissolves Uganda’s National Bureau of NGOs, which regulated the groups. The new law places its work under the Internal Affairs Ministry’s authority.

Museveni assented to bill after parliament passed it in April. MPs accused the NGOs Bureau of impeding the monitoring of NGOs activities, such as the promotion of homosexuality, that violate Ugandan law.

“I want you people (MPs) to be very careful when you are talking about NGOs,” Speaker Anita Among said during the parliamentary debate. “This is where money is being laundered into the country; this is how homosexuality money is coming into the country.”

The MPs noted that allowing the taxpayer-funded NGOs Bureau to operate independently without the State’s close supervision was putting Uganda at risk of losing its national objective of protecting its citizens from what they described as unwanted foreign practices through “funny money” given to LGBTQ rights organizations.

“I am aware of some NGOs that have been operating and doing things that are contrary to our own values and cultures, but I believe police and other agencies have been dealing with those other NGOs,” MP Sarah Opendi, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights opponent, said.

The MPs also backed the move for the NGOs Bureau to be under the Security Ministry’s oversight as “critical” by accusing it of bureaucracy in getting licenses and information. The NGOs regulator, however, does not allow the licensing of LGBTQ lobby groups for promoting homosexuality.

The NGOs Bureau in August 2022 halted the operations of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a group that fights discrimination against LGBTQ people in the country, because it was not registered by it or the Uganda Registration Services Bureau as Ugandan law requires. This decision came despite SMUG’s attempt in 2012 to reserve the name with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau for incorporation but the name was rejected for being “undesirable.”

The NGOs Bureau in stopping SMUG’s operations also noted the group did not have a physical office or location, and its representatives were reluctant to disclose it, despite partnering with the Health Ministry, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and the Uganda police.

The NGOs Bureau, however, established government institutions that partnered with SMUG were unaware that it operated illegally.   

The NGOs Bureau’s move to halt SMUG’s operations “with immediate effect” prompted the group to challenge the decision in a lower court and then the Court of Appeal. SMUG lost both cases.    

SMUG Executive Director Frank Mugisha on Thursday, two days after Museveni signed the NGOs law, petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal’s ruling against SMUG.

“Today, we filed a case at the Supreme Court of Uganda to challenge the decision by the Court of Appeal rejecting the registration of Sexual Minorities Uganda,” Mugisha stated.    

Mugisha, together with two other LGBTQ activists, Dennis Wamala and Ssenfuka Joanita Wary, argue the Court of Appeal judges’ application of the principle of public morality in interpreting constitutional and human rights law in its March 12 ruling was erroneous.

“The learned justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held that the proposed objectives of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) are criminal and prohibited under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act,” reads the Supreme Court petition.

The three appellants also argue the Court of Appeal judges incorrectly maintained SMUG’s name was “undesirable” and the NGOs Bureau was within its mandates to disallow the registration in the “public interest” under the Companies Act. They also argue the Court of Appeal judges erred when they dismissed their appeal and want the Supreme Court to grant them to fully consider their petition.

 “It is proposed to ask the Supreme Court for orders that the decision and orders of the Court of Appeal be set aside and substituted with orders of this honorable court,” reads the petition.  

Activists consider the NGOs Bureau and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau’s decision to reject SMUG’s registration a violation of the right to freedom of expression and association. 

The appeal of the Court of Appeal’s ruling to the Supreme Court comes on the heels of the appeal of the Constitutional Court’s ruling that upheld the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Museveni signed in May 2023. Mugisha is among the 22 activists who petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Constitutional Court’s ruling on July 11.

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Burkina Faso moves to criminalize homosexuality

Justice Minister Edasso Bayala made announcement on July 10

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Burkina Faso flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Burkina Faso has become the latest African country to move to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Justice Minister Edasso Bayala on July 10 after a Cabinet meeting said same-sex sexual acts and similar practices would now be prohibited and seen as a violation of the law.

Unlike other countries where lawmakers have to introduce and pass bills, this scenario will likely not be the case in Burkina Faso because the country is currently under military role. Captain Ibrahim Traorè in 2022 led a coup that removed President Roch Kaboré and Prime Minister Lassina Zerbo.

Although some have signaled there still needs to be a parliamentary vote, there will be “legal” ramifications for those who are found to be LGBTQ or advocating for the community.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations or identifying as LGBTQ were regarded as legal in Burkina Faso before the July 10 announcement. Same-sex marriages were — and remain — illegal.

Members of the Transitional Legislative Assembly last September met to discuss regional issues that included the prohibition of and penalization of homosexuality and restricting the creation of groups that advocate on behalf of sexual minorities. The TLA incorporated the suggestions into a report and submitted it to Burkina Faso’s leadership.

Some of the country’s LGBTQ groups and human rights organizations have called upon the current leadership to respect and acknowledge other genders.

“We are all equal in dignity and rights,” said the National Consultive Commission on Human Rights, which is known by acronym CNDH (Commission Nationale des Droits Humains in French), in a statement. “CNDH is fighting against all forms of discrimination based on race gender, religion or social origin.”

“In Burkina Faso, thousands of people suffer from prejudice and injustice every day,” added CNDH. “We must take action. Discrimination weakens our society and divides our communities. Every individual deserves to live without fear of being judged or excluded.”

The organization further stressed “every action counts. Every voice matters.”

“Together we can change mindsets,” it said. “We must educate, raise awareness and encourage respect for diversity.”

CNDH President Gonta Alida Henriette said the government’s decision “would be the greatest violation of human rights in Burkina Faso and would condemn hundreds of thousands of LGBT+ people in Burkina Faso.” Alice Nkom, an African human rights activist, echoed this sentiment.

“Why politicize a privacy matter among consenting adults while making it a crucial topic for Africa? I answer you: Stop spying on your neighbor for the wrong reasons,” said Nkom. “Mind your own life and, if you care about your neighbor, worry about their health, if water is coming out of the tap, if there is electricity in the house, or food to feed their children.”

“Why are they prioritizing the issue of saying no to homosexuality in Africa instead of no wars or armed conflict in Africa, no poverty in Africa, no hunger in Africa, no misery in Africa?,” asked Nkom. “We should stop being distracted by topics that take away nothing and add nothing to our lives.”

Other activists say the proposal would expose the LGBTQ community and its allies to imprisonment and other punishments. They say the repercussions would go beyond legal implications; making human rights and sexual minority activists more vulnerable to criminal action, persecution, and arbitrary arrests. 

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Cameroon president’s daughter comes out

Brenda Biya acknowledges relationship with Brazilian model

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Brenda Biya (Photo via Instagram)

The daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya has come out as a lesbian.

Brenda Biya, 26, on June 30 posted to her Instagram page a picture of her kissing Brazilian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know,” said Brenda Biya.

Her father has been Cameroon’s president since 1982.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in the Central African country that borders Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. The State Department’s 2023 human rights report notes harassment, discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ people are commonplace in the country.

Brenda Biya is a musician who does not live in Cameroon.

The BBC reported she told Le Parisien, a French newspaper, in an exclusive interview published on Tuesday that she and Valença have been together for eight months. The women have also traveled to Cameroon together three times, but Brenda Biya did not tell her family they were in a relationship.

Brenda Biya said she did not tell her family that she planned to come out, and they were upset when she did. Brenda Biya told Le Parisien that her mother, Cameroonian first lady Chantale Biya, asked her to delete her Instagram post.

The Washington Blade on Thursday did not see the picture of Brenda Biya and Valença on her Instagram account.

“Coming out is an opportunity to send a strong message,” Brenda Biya told Le Parisien.

Brenda Biya described Cameroon’s criminalization law as “unfair, and I hope that my story will change it.”

Activists applauded Brenda Biya for coming out. The BBC reported the DDHP Movement, which supports Cameroon’s anti-LGBTQ laws, filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor.

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