Ombudsman John Walters
John Walters, the Ombudsman of Namibia, has urged Namibians to respect the rights of gays and lesbians and questioned why they should not be allowed to marry.
Walters, whose office is mandated to promote and protect human rights, told The Namibian that people should be free to live their lives as they deemed fit.
He was responding to a national debate on LGBT rights sparked by a new United Nations report on Namibia’s human rights that calls on the government to repeal laws that could be used to prosecute homosexuality.
While consensual “sodomy” is illegal and could technically be used to prosecute gay men, this is not believed to have happened since Namibia’s independence in 1990.
“I think the old sodomy law has served its purpose. How many prosecutions have there been? I believe none over the past 20 years. If we don’t prosecute people, why do we have the act?” Walters asked.
He went on to say: “We have a secular state. If churches have a problem, we need to sort it out with them.” Walters furthermore argued that a measure prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation “needs to be in the Constitution”.
On the matter of same-sex marriage, he stated: “If people of the same sex would like to get married, it is their choice, whether the country, the community, churches and government acknowledge that [is something else].”
Neighbouring South Africa is the only African nation to have legalised marriage equality for same-sex couples.
In its report, the UN Human Rights Committee said that it was concerned about incidents of “discrimination, harassment and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, including cases of so-called ‘corrective rape’ against lesbians”.
It urged Namibia to “adopt legislation explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, including the Labour Act (Act No. 11 of 2007), and adopt hate crime legislation punishing homophobic and transphobic violence, and vigorously enforce it”.
The committee further called on the government to “abolish the common law of sodomy and include same-sex relationships in the Combating of Domestic Violence Act (Act No. 4 of 2003) so as to protect same-sex partners”.
Over the years, a number of Namibian politicians have railed against homosexuality as a foreign concept that’s being imposed on the country.
In August last year, Finance Deputy Minister Natangue Ithete ranted: “You are either a man or a woman. Don’t come from outside and tell us this is acceptable. They must keep their gay activities in their countries. We will not entertain any of this gayness.”