[JURIST] Malawi’s government on Thursday changed its position on a decision to suspend it laws barring same-sex marriage and homosexuality after being pressured by a number of churches within the strongly Christian country. Despite announcing a moratorium [JURIST report] that would suspend the laws to allow the country to consider their permanent nullification, Malawai Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara claims that there was no such announcement [Reuters report]. Other ministry officials have asserted that the Malawai Council of Churches [World Council of Churches backgrounder], a group of 24 Protestant churches, has applied enough pressure to force the immediate change.The laws at issue, Section 153 and 156 [ILGA backgrounder, PDF] of Malawi’s Penal Code, stipulate 14 years or five years imprisonment, respectively, for anyone engaging in male homosexual activity or relationships. This year, the law prompted the international community to reduce their aid to Malawi.
Homosexuality is illegal in 36 African nations, and South Africa is the only country on the continent where same-sex marriage is not prohibited [BBC report]. In May Malawi President Joyce Banda announced in her first national address [text] that she would decriminalize homosexual acts [JURIST report]. This announcement came as a move to normalize relations with Malawi’s development partners in response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration [official websites] pledging to promote LGBT rights when granting foreign aid [JURIST report]. In September 2010 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called for countries around the world to abolish laws discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals [JURIST report].