Gabon’s Senate yesterday voted to decriminalise homosexuality, a huge landmark result that makes the country one of the few nations in Africa to reverse a ban on same-sex relationships.
Under a law passed in 2019, Gabon became one of the 73 countries or jurisdictions around the world - including more than two dozen in Africa - where same-sex relationships were illegal.
The government’s recent decision to reverse part of the law has severely divided the public opinion and generated intense debates on social media in the central African nation, where homosexuality is still a taboo.
Efforts to remove legislation criminalising homosexuality still face challenges in the African continent. In Botswana, landlocked country in Southern part of the continent, the government has declared it will appeal a high court ruling that legalised same-sex relationships.
Even though the government did not explain why it decided to revise the law, the bill won the support of the lower house last week.
In the Senate, it “was adopted with a large majority of 59 votes”, Jessye Ella Ekogha, a spokesman for Gabon’s presidency, explained to the media.
In a closed-door session, 17 Senators voted against the move and four abstained.
The passed law will now be ratified by President Ali Bongo. Bongo’s wife, Sylvia, has voiced support for the bill, saying the ability to love freely without being condemned is a fundamental human right.
The London-based rights group, namely Human Dignity Trust, commented the new law saying Gabon had taken a hugely welcome step.
“Gabon now joins African states such as Seychelles, Angola, Mozambique and Botswana who have chosen to rid their law books of archaic provisions which enable discrimination, violence and harassment against LGBT people,” legal chief Victoria Vasey pointed out.
However, critics have arrived by some politicians and religious authorities, who expressed their disapproval ahead of Monday’s vote.
For example, the Catholic archdiocese in Libreville urged senators to vote no.
“In the name of the wisdom of our ancestors, contained in our various cultures, which celebrates life, love, family, we say no to the decriminalisation of homosexuality,” it claimed in a statement.