The Gabon National Assembly’s passing of a law decriminalising homosexuality is a triumph for those behind the initiative. It’s a triumph for supporters of homosexuality decriminalisation, including the law’s most prominent activist, Gabon’s First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba. Who recently tweeted, “Parliament has restored a fundamental human right for its citizens: that of loving, freely, without being condemned. Say yes to dignity and no to hate”. The Gabonese Senate on June 29 approved a bill to repeal a 2019 law that criminalized same-sex relationships by a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a 5 million Central African CFA franc ($8,561) fine. President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Tuesday, July 6, signed the repeal measure into law.
“I applaud the collective decision by Gabon’s parliament, government and president to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in a press release. “By doing so, Gabon is righting a grave injustice inflicted on the LGBTI community in the country.”
With this vote, Gabon has become one of just a few sub-Saharan African countries to have moved to decriminalise homosexuality. Despite all outward appearances, this social reform initiative is unsurprising. As a matter of fact, homosexuality was neither permitted nor prohibited in Gabon until July 2019, when a new Penal Code entered into force. This legal vacuum led to a tradition of tolerance towards minority sexual preferences.
The initial proposal to legalize LGBTQ relationships was approved in the lower house of the Gabonese Parliament on June 24.
Reuters reported 59 members of the Gabonese Senate moved to revise the law, as opposed to 17 senators who voted against the reversal. Four senators abstained.
Angola and Lesotho are among the African countries that have decriminalized same-sex relationships in recent years, and LGBTQ rights advocates are demanding more to join.
“Today’s historic signing of a law decriminalizing same-sex relations in Gabon is a pivotal moment in the global fight for LGBTQ rights,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David in a press release. “This critical win for basic human rights gives us reason to hope for more awareness and more victories across the continent.” Kenya and Uganda are among the 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
“It is shocking that over a third of the world’s countries continue to criminalize same-sex love, in stark contrast to basic human dignity and international human rights standards,” OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern in an Instagram post. “The decision in Gabon decreases the total number of countries criminalizing same-sex relations by one. This is not only an affirmation of the right of LGBTQ people in Gabon to love whom they choose, but also an inspiration to advocates in countries in which these bans still exist or are being considered.”