Namibian court overturns and declares unconstitutional a law criminalizing gay sex between men

WINDHOEK, Namibia (AP) — A court in Namibia on Friday overturned and declared unconstitutional a colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex between men in a victory for LGBTQ campaigners in the southern African nation.

Three judges in the High Court in the capital, Windhoek, said in a joint ruling that the law that banned “sodomy” and "unnatural sexual offenses" between men and dated back to the time when Namibia was ruled by apartheid-era South Africa was unfair discrimination and should be removed.

Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990.

The case against the government was brought by a gay Namibian man, Friedel Dausab, in 2022. There are no laws criminalizing sexual activity between women.

Dausab argued that the law was a legacy of Namibia’s colonial history and was aimed at punishing and excluding gay men. He said in his court papers that although people were rarely prosecuted under the law, it stigmatized and marginalized same-sex couples “by outlawing the most private and intimate expressions of their love and identity." The government opposed Dausab’s case.

The United Nations' HIV/AIDS agency said the ruling “marks a significant victory for equality and human rights for all Namibians and will help protect the health of everyone.” The law had “perpetuated an environment of discrimination and fear, often hindering access to essential healthcare services” for members of the LGBTQ community, UNAIDS regional director for southern and East Africa, Anne Githuku-Shongwe said.

Amnesty International also welcomed the decision and said that Namibia had experienced a fierce anti-LQBTQ “backlash” in the past year after a 2023 Supreme Court decision that recognized same-sex unions between Namibian citizens performed in other countries.

In Africa, 31 countries criminalized same-sex sexual activity at the start of this year, according to Amnesty. That includes Uganda's harsh new anti-gay law that was passed last year and allows for the death sentence in some cases.

Zimbabwe's Gay and Lesbian Association said it was heartened that the Namibian ruling had upheld the principles of equality and called on its own government to overturn laws that criminalize same-sex relationships.

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Sonja Smith, The Associated Press