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African couple arrested for Gay marriage
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African couple arrested for Gay marriage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On December 26, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were married in a traditional ceremony in the African nation of Malawi.

Two days later, they were arrested by police and hauled off to jail.

"We arrested them last night at their home and charged them with gross public indecency because the practice is against the law," said Dave Chingwalu, a spokesperson for the Malawi police, on Tuesday.

Malawi law punishes sexual acts between consenting adults of the same gender with prison sentences of up to 14 years. Same-sex marriage was specifically banned on July 30, when Malawi's National Assembly amended the nation's constitution to forbid it.

As SGN goes to press, a team of five private lawyers is reportedly working to free the couple.

Speaking on BBC's Network Africa TV news, police spokesperson Chingwalu noted that the couple violated Malawi law.

"Homosexually is not accepted according to laws of Malawi," he said. "The law is not outdated, it is in the penal code. Section 156 forbids two male doing homosexuality."

Chingwalu said the pair was being held in separate cells to prevent them having their honeymoon in custody.

"They slept in separate cells because they have been suspected of committing homosexuality activities, which is illegal. We thought of keeping them in different cells."

"We met at church where we both pray and we have been together for the last five months. ... I have never been interested in a woman," Monjeza told The Nation newspaper.

Their wedding was conducted according to local tradition, with Chimbalanga dressed as the bride, and Monjeza as the groom. Chimbalanga is reportedly still wearing his wedding dress in jail.

BBC reporter Raphael Tenthani said the pair "were still relaxing at Blantyre police station with Tiwonge the bride still wearing the engagement dress he wore during the engagement. They may have to spend more days behind bars for the judiciary in Malawi is on Charismas recess, and the couple can only have their day in court on Monday next week [January 4]."

Human rights activist Undule Mwakasungura told BBC Network Africa that Malawi should deepen the debate on homosexuality and same-sex marriages.

"We cannot afford to continue discriminating [against] homosexuals. This Gay marriage has shown that homosexuality is among us and we cannot continue to pretend. We need to adjust to accommodate this group of human beings," Mwakasungura said.

"But also these are lessons for us to deepen the debate of legalizing homosexuality in view that efforts to fight HIV and AIDS cannot be achieved without recognizing the rights of groups such as the Gay citizens," he added.

Human rights lawyer Crispin Sibande told BBC Focus on Africa on Tuesday evening "In a democratic era like what we believe in, if you are arresting people based on their sexual orientation are you doing injustice to the fundamental human rights of these individuals?"

Malawi is perhaps best known in this country as the nation where pop icon Madonna adopted two children. It is a multi-party democracy of about 15 million people, one of the world's most densely populated countries, and also one of the poorest.

About 80% of Malawi's people identify as Christian. Roman Catholics and Presbyterians make up the largest denominations.

Although Gay sex is illegal in Malawi, Gay identity is not. The Malawi Gay Rights Movement - known locally as "Magrim" - claims 3,890 members.

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika met with Magrim members in September 2008. A Magrim spokesperson later reported that the president "wished us well."

In Africa, 38 out of 53 countries have criminalized consensual Gay sex. In Nigeria, Mauritania, and Sudan homosexuality carries the death penalty.

On the other hand, South Africa's constitution specifically forbids discrimination against its LGBT citizens. South Africa legalized same-sex marriage on December 1, 2006.

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