On Tuesday, May 16, the Supreme Court of Namibia ruled that their country should recognise the unions of same-sex couples who were legally married in other countries, even though same-sex marriage remains illegal in Namibia.
Welcomed by LGBTQ+ activists and allies across the country, this ruling overturns a decision made by the High Court in 2022 which refused to recognise same-sex marriages that were established outside of Namibia.
The cases that led to the Supreme Court ruling were initiated when residency applications from two people with Nambian spouses were denied.
One applicant was a German woman who married a Namibian citizen in Germany; the other was a South African man who married a Namibian man in South Africa. Initially, their spouses were refused residency based on the fact that their marriages were not recognised in Namibia, which prompted them to take legal action.
Ultimately, the court determined that not recognising these marriages would infringe on the couples’ rights. One judge, JA Mainga, dissented from voting. The other four judges ruled in favour, citing that excluding these spouses from residency “in a validly concluded same-sex marriage […] infringes both their interrelated rights to dignity and equality”.
— Namibia Equal Rights Movement (@EqualNamibia) May 16, 2023
Linda Baumann of the Diverse Women’s Organisation said this ruling will help LGBTQ+ couples obtain access to the same legal services as opposite-sex couples, sharing: “It is important to understand the status of this case; it’s couples that are coming back to this country to claim their right to equality, their right to dignity and their right to family.”
An opposition party, Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters, expressed their disapproval by calling for a national referendum. They are claiming that the Supreme Court ruling is forcing foreign cultural views on Namibians.
JUST IN: The Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters says, by recognising same-sex marriages involving foreign spouses, the Supreme Court is forcing upon Namibians cultural views that are foreign to the country and its citizens. NEFF is recommending a national referendum on the matter. pic.twitter.com/ZUhyp0bUBl
— Namibian Sun (@namibiansun) May 16, 2023
The ruling makes Namibia the second country on the continent to accept same-sex marriages established abroad. The first was South Africa, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2006.
The decision sits in stark contrast with what is happening in another country in the African continent, Uganda, which is poised to enact one of the cruellest anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the world. The Ugandan bill includes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and imposes a 20-year prison term for campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights.
🇳🇦 Namibia's Supreme Court on Tuesday granted legal status to same-sex marriages in a historic judgement.
💍 The court’s judgement will give non-Namibian spouses in same-sex marriages the same residence rights in Namibia that are given to spouses in opposite-sex marriages. pic.twitter.com/wt2NUSxXdj
— Openly 🏳️🌈 (@Openly) May 16, 2023
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