The Slatest

Botswana Decriminalizes Gay Sex, Overturning Colonial-Era Ban

People with a rainbow flag take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade on June 30, 2018 in Durban, South Africa.
People with a rainbow flag take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade on June 30, 2018, in Durban, South Africa.
Rajesh Jantilal/Getty Images

Botswana’s High Court on Tuesday overturned the southern African country’s colonial-era gay sex laws that criminalized homosexuality. The ruling is seen as major victory for LGBTQ rights in the country and has raised hopes that the case can be harbinger of change across the continent, where conservative societies and archaic colonial-era laws have proved resistant to expanding rights to the LGBTQ community. In its ruling, the court said the right to privacy includes sexual orientation and that the law should not penalize people for private acts between consenting adults.

The ruling comes shortly after a similar case in Kenya saw the High Court affirm the country’s ban on homosexuality. Earlier this year, Angola similarly decriminalized same-sex activity while outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. In Botswana, one of the most stable and democratic nations on the continent, the country’s ban on homosexuality under the 1965 penal code had persisted. Under the law, “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” could lead to seven years in jail, and “acts of gross indecency,” whether in public or private, carried a two-year prison term. Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, there had been some opening up on the issue as societal norms shifted. “While homophobic attitudes continue to prevail in parts of the country, Botswana’s LGBTQ activists and supporters have marked some victories for the movement in recent years,” CNN reports. “The 2010 Employment Act made it illegal for employers to terminate contracts on the basis of sexual orientation … and two landmark rulings in October and December 2017 laid the foundation for trans people to more easily change their official gender on identity documents.”

But the anti-gay laws lingered on the books, prompting a legal challenge last year by a 21-year-old student at the University of Botswana. “I am in a sexually intimate relationship with a man. I have no doubt that this will be the case for the rest of my life. My friends, roommates at the University of Botswana have accepted me, even at the University of Botswana I feel free and accepted,” Letsweletse Motshidiemang said last year when filing the case against the government. “By virtue of one or more of these provisions of the law, I am prohibited from expressing the greatest emotion of love through the act of enjoying sexual intercourse with another consenting adult male that I am sexually attracted to and who is also sexually attracted to me, as consenting adults.”