LILONGWE, Malawi — The Malawi Council of Churches (MCC), the country’s leading Christian organization, is demanding that the government hold a referendum on Malawi’s harsh anti-gay laws, confident that Malawians will send a message reaffirming their opposition to any effort to decriminalize homosexuality in the African nation.
MCC’s call comes as the United Nations’ AIDS (UNAIDS) task force and human rights groups recently announced that they are launching a High Court battle against Malawi’s laws criminalizing gay sex.
The country’s High Court is currently considering an appeal, backed by UNAIDS, of the conviction of three men who are serving jail terms for engaging in gay sex.
Malawi’s strict anti-homosexuality laws imposes prison terms of up to 14 years for engaging in homosexual behavior, which can also be accompanied by corporal punishment.
In addition, there are three other laws for related offenses, including an attempt at gay sex, gross indecency, and sex between two women — each with punishments ranging between five to seven years imprisonment, with or without corporal punishment.
UNAIDS argued that the Malawi’s anti-gay laws “infringe upon human rights, undermine the effectiveness of HIV programs” by stopping locals from accessing preventative measures and causing epidemic proportion of infection rates.
MCC leaders, however, dismissed the arguments, saying the HIV infection rates cannot be used as a justification to legalize same-sex acts.
“Forcing homosexuality amongst Malawians is not only wrong, but also continues to deny the Malawian people of the much important developmental needs on the expense of a few people,” MCC said, in a statement. “The majority of Malawians do not subscribe to homosexual liaisons… We are a sovereign and we are a God-fearing nation that must be respected with its laws and traditions.”
Some Western countries have threatened to withdraw financial aid to Malawi if the country fails to decriminalize homosexuality, saying they contravene basic human rights and hamper preventative measures against HIV infection.