Malawi opposition lawmakers press govt to clarify gay rights stance

Member of Parliament (MP) for Mwanza West, Nicholas Dausi, on Tuesday asked government to explain its stand on gay and abortion rights issues.

This follows recent announcement by  Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Ralph Kasambara that the government would suspend arrests pending a decision on whether to repeal laws banning homosexuality.

But government back-tracked on its decision, after Malawi Council of Churches, a group of 24 influential Protestant churches, and the Law Society fiercely criticised the move.

The Church body said “minority rights must not be prioritized over all other rights, especially when they offer no common good to the larger interests of the people.”

Dausi posed the question to Minister of Justice in parliament. The opposition clapped hands in agreement with the question.

Dausi: Asked government to clarify stance on gay rights

“In relation to the issue of a moratorium on the homosexuality laws, can the minister come out clear on what is government’s position on issues of gays, but also abortion,” said Dausi.

But before Kasambara could stand to respond, the Speaker, Henry Chimunthu Banda chipped in and said that the question was different from the topic that was being discussed.

“I must say Honourable, your Supplementary question is different from what is being discussed on the floor,” said Chimunthu Banda.

After the Speaker had spoken, the Opposition shouted Akuithawa (he is evading the question on abortion and gay rights).

The Speaker then asked Minister of Lands and Leader of the House, Henry Phoya for his input on the question.

Phoya said he agreed with the Speaker.

“This question about gay and abortion rights is very different from what is being discussed,” Phoya said, adding that it was an attempt by Dausi to gain political mileage.

MP for Mulanje South West and leader of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the House, George Chaponda said that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General needed to issue a Ministerial statement on the matter because it was of public interest.

The question that under discussion before Dausi asked his question was from MP for Mzimba West, Paul Shawa, who asked the Minister of Justice to consider building a Magistrates Court and staff houses at Luviri.

Malawi’s anti-gay laws have caused friction with Western donors, whose assistance is crucial to propping up the economy of the impoverished southern African nation.

In 2009, two men were arrested and charged with public indecency after becoming the first gay couple to marry in the socially conservative former British colony.

The prosecution drew international condemnation and was one of the reasons Western donors withdrew budget support to the government of Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in April.

A recent report presented to Mutharika’s successor Joyce Banda recommended decriminalisation of same-sex marriages as a way of helping fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.—(Adittional reporting by Fostina Mkandawire, Malawi News Agency)

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