The issue of homosexuality in Malawi refuses to go away. The authorities are currently considering what to do about the issue of homosexuality, including, perhaps, repealing the laws in Malawi that make homosexuality a crime.
It is not surprising that a chorus of righteous indignation has erupted from various sectors in society. I think it is fair to say most Malawians are opposed to the practice of homosexuality, and a majority of those opposed would like to maintain the law that punishes the practice.
Various reasons why homosexuality is bad and ought to be opposed, indeed even criminalised, have been given. One reason is that homosexuality is unnatural. This is just another way of saying those of us who are heterosexual find it incomprehensible that a man would want to be sexually involved with another man, or a woman with another woman. Fair point!
Another argument is that homosexuality is unMalawian. This argument is laughable. Homosexuality has been around at least, if you believe the Bible, as early as the time of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Greeks and Romans were unabashedly homosexual in some of their relationships. To say homosexuality is unMalawian is to say Malawians are not humans. As long as you have a population of humans living in a community such as Malawi, some among such a population are bound to be partial to same-sex relationships.
The third and final argument, which, for me, has been the impetus for writing this article, is that homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible. As a Christian country, Malawi cannot allow homosexuality within its borders—so goes this argument. (For the record, Malawi is not a Christian country; it is a secular country with Christians in it.) I have much to say about this last argument against homosexuality, but I must start by pointing out that I am a Christian in the Evangelical tradition. Like many of my brethren, I believe the Bible when it says that homosexuality is a sin (Leviticus 18: 22). I believe wholeheartedly.
However, I also recognise that saying homosexuality is a sin and should, therefore; be criminalised, is like saying adultery and fornication are sins and we should, therefore; criminalise the sale of condoms. Does anyone really believe that people would stop sleeping around if the sale of condoms became illegal? Lawmakers and policymakers in government—including, I have no doubt, some very good Christians—have made the decision that it is in the long-term interest of Malawians to sell them condoms so that they can protect themselves when they engage in adultery and fornication—sinful, though, these practices may be. Such is the role that government should play in society. Every government must provide for and protect all its citizens, protect them even in spite of themselves and their tendencies to self-destruct by engaging in risky behaviours. As much as the government of Malawi continues to protect Malawian citizens who are fornicators and adulterers by ensuring that they have access to condoms, so too it must at least ensure that homosexuals are not persecuted or prosecuted, even though a majority of Malawians finds homosexuality sinful.
Are all sins not equal? Criminalising the sale of condoms would not stop fornication and adultery, and the continued criminalisation of homosexuality will not make homosexuality go away. Similarly, pontificating about the sinfulness of homosexuality will not make it go away, nor will it make Malawi a more Christian country.
It is easy, and somewhat convenient, for those of us who are Christians to use the issue of homosexuality as an opportunity to express and channel our religious fervour. We Evangelicals are particularly adept at pointing out sin, and the issue of homosexuality has aroused the zeal of many Christian leaders. A few months ago, I read a particularly lucid pastoral declaration on the issue of homosexuality in The Nation, courtesy of the CCAP’s Nkhoma Synod. Such pronouncements mean well, but religion should never be the guiding principle for enacting laws and policies. Government should enact policies based on what’s good for all its citizens—even its fornicating, adulterous, and, yes, homosexual citizens. —The author believes in equal rights for all