GALZ Director Chesterfield Samba

Zimbabwe’s leading LGBT rights group has welcomed the overwhelming public vote in favour of the country’s new constitution, despite it banning same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission revealed that almost 95 percent of Zimbabweans voted in favour of the draft constitution in Saturday’s referendum.

While the constitution is generally seen as a step forward in limiting the powers of homophobic President Robert Mugabe and improving the country’s human rights framework, it does specifically ban same-sex marriage.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) said on Tuesday that, despite this, “the LGBTI community reported participating in the referendum,” which the group had earlier supported.

The organisation said in a statement: “GALZ believes that the draft constitution provides a useful foundation on which Zimbabwe can rebuild respect for human rights by its institutions and citizens.

“The constitution recognises in its founding values, the equality and inherent dignity and worth of all human beings. These are important values which are common to all Zimbabweans, including GALZ members.”

It added that while “the Constitution is not the appropriate forum to give effect to the private beliefs held by some that same-sex couples should not be married” it could still generally lead to an improvement in the legal status quo of LGBT people in the country.

GALZ believes that current legislation criminalising sex and affection between members of the same sex is in conflict with the new constitution.

“We hope that the government will soon seek to amend the Criminal Code which continues to criminalise consensual adult same-sex sexual conduct in violation of our constitutional rights,” commented GALZ Director Chesterfield Samba.

The constitution is expected to be signed into law by President Mugabe within 30 days, something that has been described as a formality. He is then likely to call for elections.

Under current laws, gay sex, as well as members of the same sex holding hands, hugging or kissing, is illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail.

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