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Confirmed: Gabon makes gay sex legal with overwhelming Senate vote

Confirmed: Gabon makes gay sex legal with overwhelming Senate vote

  • Gabon’s Catholic Church had campaigned to keep us as criminals.
The sea front at Libreville, Gabon’s capital.

Both Gabon’s houses of parliament have now voted to decriminalize homosexuality, making it one of the few African countries to scrap the law.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill. Presidential spokesman Jessye Ella Ekogha said it passed ‘with a large majority of 59 votes’. Meanwhile just 17 senators voted against and four abstained.

That’s an even bigger majority than the bill achieved in the National Assembly on 23 June. Then 48 lawmakers voted to make gay sex legal, with 24 voting against and 25 abstentions.

Now the bill will go to President Ali Bongo Ondimba for his ratification and signature. However his wife, First Lady Sylvia Valentin, supports decriminalization. She believes the ability to love freely is a fundamental human right.

Ali Bongo Ondimba.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba now has to ratify the law. UK FCO

Unusually for Africa, Gabon hasn’t criminalized gay sex for most of its modern history. Homosexuality was legal from when the country won independence from France in 1960 until last year.

However in 2019, it brought in a new penal code which banned ‘sexual relations between people of the same sex’. The law punished male and female same-sex activity with up to six months prisons and large fines of CFA 5million ($8,600 €7,600).

Giving hope to LGBT+ Africa

Before colonisation, history suggests Gabon accepted and even celebrated LGBT+ people.

Indeed, homosexual intercourse was known as ‘bian nkuma’ among the Bantu speaking Pouhain farmers in present day Gabon and Cameroon. They considered it a kind of medicine as they believed sexual activity between men created wealth.

However, not everyone was in favor of decriminalization.

The Catholic Archdiocese in the capital Libreville had urged senators to keep oppressing lesbian, gay and bisexual people. In a statement on 24 June, they said:

‘In the name of the wisdom of our ancestors, contained in our various cultures, which celebrates life, love, family, we say no to the decriminalisation of homosexuality.’

But now LGBT+ campaigners are celebrating.

Victoria Vasey is Head of Legal at the Human Dignity Trust in London, which campaigns to decriminalize LGBT+ people.

She said: ‘Gabon now joins African states such as Seychelles, Angola, Mozambique and Botswana who have chosen to rid their law books of archaic provisions which enable discrimination, violence and harassment against LGBT people.’

Moreover, veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell also welcomed the news.

He said ‘it will give hope to the many brave LGBT+ campaigners throughout Africa that they can eventually win’. 

But he added: ‘This still leaves 72 countries and jurisdictions where same-sex relations remain a crimes, including 10 countries that have the death penalty for homosexuality.’

Of those, two more African countries, Kenya and Mauritius currently face legal challenges to their gay sex bans.