Issues of same sex marriage and death penalty have been topics for discussion for some time now, yet without any meaningful headway. The latest comments came from political leaders of different parties during campaign for the just gone 2014 Tripartite Elections. Most of the leaders, including President Peter Mutharika, pledged to call for a referendum over the two issues once they get into State House.
For many people, calls for a referendum on the two issues only showed that the leaders were not ready to accommodate homosexuality and abolish death penalty. According to the Penal Code, death penalty is still legitimate while homosexuality remains punishable by law.
By suggesting a referendum, which essentially is a call for Malawians to decide on the fate of the two issues, people believe the leaders will be abdicating on their responsibilities.
For these people, this could have been a very good idea in the absence of knowledge of the percentages in divided opinions among Malawians. Otherwise, a referendum under the circumstances will be a foregone conclusion as most Malawians are against homosexuality and death penalty. Hence, such an exercise would be viewed as a waste of resources and time.
It is no secret that many Malawians have spoken against same sex marriages because the practice is not consistent with the majority of our culture, traditions and religion. On the other hand, human rights activists have been advocating for promotion of same sex marriages, arguing these are issues of minority rights that have to be respected and promoted.
They have also been speaking against the issue of death sentence without recognising that those who kill violate other people’s rights to life. On the other hand, activists are forgetting that those who want to enjoy full rights must have the responsibility to know that those they kill have a right to life too.
Despite wide public debate, there remain two forces interested in homosexuality and death penalty. One group is fighting against the idea of legalising same sex marriages and the other advocating for recognition of homosexuality as a human rights issue that has to be respected without reservations. The same is the case on death penalty. This calls for an immediate solution to the problem, especially on what is the right or wrong position.
To be precise, Malawi’s culture does not recognise same sex marriages. It is a taboo in Malawian for people to have same sex relationships. Most Malawians believe homosexuality in an import from the western world, whose cultures are different from those in Malawi. So too is persecution; it is regarded as a serious violation of Malawi’s conservative cultural principles.
Considering that the issues are failing to die, what should the nation do? I am of the view that the best thing is for all Malawians to decide. Malawians are the best judges over issues affecting them in their everyday lives. There is no need for foreigners or donors to make decisions for us.
I know why a referendum is the best way forward despite reservations from some quarters based on Malawians’ known stand on homosexuality and death penalty. For me, a referendum is the only way forward.
Homosexuality affects all Malawians regardless of sex because of the population imbalances between women and men. Malawi has 52 percent women, meaning not all women have a chance of getting a husband.
Add to this, the fact that most religions and cultures in Malawi discourage polygamy. In view of this, it is not surprising that women are scrambling for the few men available. No wonder, divorce is a common feature in Malawi today, mostly due to infidelity as most men leave their wives for other women who need a man but cannot get a single man for themselves. In the end, women and children become victims of poverty in a situation where a man no longer supports the former wife and his children.
In some cases, such divorced women and their children may become desperate in search of financial support to sustain their needs. As a result, they may venture into prostitution while their children may end up on the streets where they learn all sorts of bad behaviours such as drug and sex abuse and indulge in criminal activities.
This being the case now, how bad will it be if some men start marrying fellow men? It will just increase the demand for men among women and all its attendant problems. Even in the absence of official statistics, there are more Malawian men practising homosexuality than women.
On the health front, it is well documented that homosexuals have a higher risk of contracting HIV than those involved in heterosexual activities. This means that Malawi, already heavily ravaged with HIV and Aids, will just lose the noble fight against the pandemic if homosexuality is legalised. I need not talk about the many socioeconomic challenges that come with HIV and Aids.
Uganda may be considered an extreme case, but Malawi needs to borrow a leaf from there. In February this year, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay law that virtually prohibited same sex relationships and imposed heavy sentences on culprits. In my view, Museveni did the right thing because gayism is not only unnatural but also not in tandem with Ugandan culture and traditions. It was something that some few people wanted to force on Ugandans despite the majority of people being against it.
Unlike Museveni, President Peter Mutharika can do better by taking the issue to the people through a referendum just as we did with the issue of multiparty democracy. Without a referendum, everything we talk about shall never be meaningful to some people, especially the minority rights activists.
On death penalty, our laws are also very clear. Normally when courts find suspects guilty of voluntary murder, they mete out death penalty. This is legally right because that is the current position of the law. If people are not happy with the status quo, then the law has to be repealed and there are several options for doing that.
I am excited with suggestions of holding a referendum for Malawians to decide on whether people who voluntarily kill others should be hanged or not. This would be an important exercise because, again, it will be based on the views of the majority. The decision thus made will be deemed good in the eyes of many Malawians.
Much as laws on homosexuality and death penalty are still valid, there is need to review them not through the legislature, but by all Malawians through a referendum. This should be done with urgency.
Things will not change if we procrastinate on such crucial issues.