Namibia
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Swapo fights back against same-sex marriage

The Swapo party central committee has instructed the government to modify the definition of the term “spouse” in the Immigration Control Act, which would result in same-sex marriage partners not being regarded as each other’s spouse.

This comes after the Supreme Court in a judgement delivered last month directed the government to recognise two same-sex couples’ marriages that were validly concluded outside the country.

In a thinly veiled reference to sodomy, the ruling party in a statement issued on Saturday also said it “strongly condemns and repudiates all kinds of immoral and indecent acts”, as well as “other associated acts that are either inconsistent with Namibian laws or against public policy”.

The party added that it was directing “its government to enforce all laws in force that are aimed at preventing and combating such acts”.

The party’s highest decision-making body, which met in Windhoek on Saturday, expressed its “grave disappointment” with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

Addressing the media on the outcome of the central committee meeting, Swapo spokesperson Hilma Nicanor said the ruling party had decided to instruct the government to take immediate executive and legislative action to amend the Immigration Control Act to include a definition of the term “spouse” in accordance with Namibian laws on marriage and family.

On 16 May, the Supreme Court ruled against the ministry of home affairs’ refusal to recognise spouses in two same-sex marriages validly concluded outside Namibia for immigration purposes in terms of the Immigration Control Act of 1993.

The court found that the ministry’s stance infringes on those foreign nationals’ rights to dignity and equality under Namibian law.

The Supreme Court concluded that, in terms of the Namibian law, the validity of a marriage is determined in accordance with the legal requirements of the country where the marriage was concluded.

This legal position, according to the court, is in accordance with the applicable common law principle, which the court found to remain part of Namibian law.

However, the Swapo legal committee supported government arguments that, although the two foreign nationals were married to Namibians in countries that recognise same-sex marriage, they could not qualify as “spouses”.

This qualification, they said, would be inconsistent with Namibian laws and policies.

Nicanor, who read out the statement by the Swapo central committee, said the Supreme Court’s decision only dealt with and is only applicable to the recognition of foreign spouses in validly concluded same-sex marriages for immigration purposes.

“The central committee observed that the judgement, when properly considered and read, does not generally recognise same-sex marriages in Namibia as some seek to portray. It is of limited scope and effect,” Nicanor said.

“After the central committee extensively discussed the judgement and its effect on society as a whole, it hereby expresses its grave concern and disappointment over the judgement and the uncertainty and confusion it creates,” she said.

Swapo Party Youth League secretary Ephraim Nekongo told The Namibian over the weekend that he anticipates the government would speedily implement the central committee’s directives.

“What we have asked is for the party to sit and direct its government. And I am very happy to say that what we asked for was fulfilled,” said Nekongo, who has also publicly criticised the Supreme Court decision.

Lawyer Carli Schickerling, who represented the two same-sex couples involved in the Supreme Court case, noted yesterday that the home affairs ministry’s conduct towards the two couples was found to be unconstitutional. The only way to modify that, is to stop the conduct, and not by definition clauses in legislation, Schickerling said.

“The Supreme Court found the discrimination to be unconstitutional. Words in legislation may possibly be modified […] but the violation of a person’s dignity cannot be undone by using euphemisms. What must rather be modified now, is some people’s approach to simple good manners,” Schickerling stated.

‘CALM DOWN’

Though the Supreme Court judgement is seen as a victory for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and other community, it has been heavily criticised from some quarters of the public.

Some Swapo members, including lawmaker Jerry Ekandjo, also came out strongly against the court judgment.

Ekandjo contended that the Constitution expressly specifies that marriage should only be between a consenting man and a woman.

He has since moved a motion in the National Assembly calling on parliament to reject the court’s decision.

However, Swapo president Hage Geingob has called for calm.

Speaking during the opening of the party meeting on Saturday, Geingob said Swapo’s constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“That’s the Swapo position. Now why do you get excited as Swapo members? Our national Constitution is equally explicit. It defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The Constitution is very clear, there is no change,” he said.