President Lazarus Chakwera has left the issue of legalising same-sex marriage to the country’s citizens to determine how the contentious matter should be handled.
The President’s position as outlined by his press secretary Brian Banda during the 13th Weekly Briefing at Sanjika Palace in Blantyre yesterday, is similar to the stand taken by his predecessor Peter Mutharika in 2015 when he announced “the issue will be put to referendum” for Malawians to decide. However, the vote never took place.
Briefing journalists, Banda said that while the issue of same-sex marriages was an outstanding point of debate, Malawians hold its fate.
He said: “What we need to do is to discuss as a country on the way forward. What is it that we want? We should not leave this issue to the President alone to decide.”
Banda said Chakwera and his nine-political party Tonse Alliance administration was ready to listen to diverse opinions on the matter from both the pros and those against the legalisation for the country to find a position on how to deal with it.
But reacting to Chakwera’s stand, Eric Sambisa, a member of the network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organisations in Malawi, described the President’s stand as unfortunate on the basis that it was wrong for the President to subject issues of minorities to the majority.
He said: “We are already outnumbered and it is unfair for the president to say issues that affect minority people should be decided by the majority. We wish the President had an audience with us and hear our side first before making decisions that put others at a disadvantage.”
On his part, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) national coordinator Luke Tembo argued the President needed to offer appropriate guidance on how Malawians will handle the issue other than leaving it open.
The issue of LGBT rights in Malawi was thrust into the international spotlight in 2010 when Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment after they got engaged in a traditional ceremony. They were eventually pardoned and released.
The LGBT community argues they “should be free to love, and have the right to commit to the person they love and to celebrate that love without discrimination”.
During the briefing, Banda also maintained that Chakwera will not comment on the issue of Englightened Christian Gathering (ECG) leader prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary who jumped bail in South Africa and are being sought by that country’s authorities.
The Bushiris fled South Africa amid charges of fraud and money laundering hanging over their heads.