Namibia | Small victory for gay couple suing for marriage recognition

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The Namibian government has agreed to allow a South African man to continue to enter the country to stay with his husband and son – at least for now.

In December last year, Namibian Johann Potgieter and his South African spouse Daniel Digashu filed an urgent application in the High Court to force immigration authorities to allow Digashu to stay in the country.

Namibia does not recognise the men’s marriage and Digashu faced being separated from his family when his temporary work visa expired last week.

They have also requested the court to order the government to issue a certificate of identity to Digashu as Potgieter’s spouse, to recognise their marriage and family, and to recognise an order of the High Court of South Africa that gave them guardianship of their son.

According to The Namibian, just before the urgent hearing was set to take place, the government gave an undertaking that Digashu would not be stopped from entering the country on a new visitor’s permit while the case is before the courts.

This is a first victory, but the couple are still pursuing their demands for equality. Although a date has not yet been set, the potentially ground-breaking case is expected to be heard sometime this year.

The men have been raising an eight-year-old boy since his mother, Digashu’s aunt, died in 2014. They have been granted permission by the court in South Africa to take the boy to Namibia while the adoption process is underway.

Since moving to Windhoek, the family have faced numerous “demeaning, humiliating and degrading” instances of discrimination from officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration. Digashu has been forced to go in and out of the country on various visas.

One experience saw a senior official reportedly telling the men: “I have never met people like you in my life. I don’t know anyone of your kind. Who is the husband and who is the wife in the relationship?”

Consensual “sodomy” is illegal in Namibia and could be used to prosecute gay men, although this is not believed to have happened since the country’s independence in 1990.

A 2016 UN Human Rights Committee report urged Namibia to adopt legislation explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in the Labour Act, and adopt hate crime legislation punishing homophobic and transphobic violence.

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