Gabon takes historic first step towards passing new law decriminalising same-sex relations

While lawmakers have voted to decriminalise same-sex relations, the LGBT+ community in Gabon fear homophobic backlash may negatively impact this decision.

Gabon same-sex relations

The lower house of parliament in Gabon have voted to decriminalise same-sex relations less than a year after making it a crime. 

In July 2019, the African nation of Gabon passed a law banning same-sex relations, with those convicted facing up to six months in jail and a fine of five million francs. On Tuesday, June 23 2020, 48 parliament members voted to revise this bill, while 24 voted against and 25 abstained.

First Lady of Gabon, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, celebrated the outcome by writing on Twitter, “Parliament is restoring a fundamental human right for its citizens: that of loving, freely, without being condemned. The republic defends respect for everyone’s privacy and remains one and indivisible beyond feelings. Yes to dignity, no to hate.” 

While action has been taken towards revising this legislation, Gabon’s LGBT+ community are fearful that a surge in homophobic attitudes might impact the senate’s decision to approve the proposed bill. One gay man told Reuters, “It is a good thing that this has happened and I am happy. But I will not be surprised if there’s a riot in the near future and that forces the government to put the law back in place.” 

One member of Parliament who voted against revising the bill stated, “48 lawmakers have shaken an entire nation and its customs and traditions.”

A gay lawyer in the capital, Libreville, expressed, “Just them starting this has stirred up homophobia and when or if it is passed, I expect that the law will be met with resistance from the general population. Riots and violence against the community will probably peak and eventually the government might do another U-turn.”

Speaking about how the criminalisation of same-sex relations has impacted LGBT+ people in Gabon, an activist who works with the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa, Davis Mac-Iyalla, said, “It has further sent the LGBT community underground and has created harassment. The corrupt police now use that, arrest people and then people have to bribe their way out.”

According to the United Nations, there are 76 countries that criminalise same-sex relations, enforced by arrest, imprisonment, persecution, and, in nine places, the death penalty. However, countries are becoming more active towards removing these harmful laws as shown in 2019 when Botswanna and Angola voted in favor of decriminalisation following landmark rulings.

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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