Saturday 19 August 2017

Seychelles parliament decriminalises gay sex

Seychelles parliament decriminalises gay sex
(AFP 05/19/16)

The Seychelles has decriminalised gay sex, the state news agency said Thursday, after lawmakers voted to amend a penal code that meant those convicted of sodomy faced 14 years in jail.

The move means the Indian Ocean archipelago has become one of the very few African Union (AU) members to allow homosexuality, which remains a crime across most of the continent.

President James Michel, who heads the ruling Parti Lepep which dominates parliament, launched the proposal in February, but said members could vote according to their conscience.

"Out of 28 members present for the vote, 14 voted in favour while the other half abstained," the Seychelles News Agency (SNA) reported after the vote was passed on Wednesday in the capital Victoria.

Four other lawmakers were absent from the vote.

The Seychelles, which belongs to the 54-member AU bloc, is made up of 115 tropical islands lying off the coast of east Africa. More than three-quarters of the islanders are Roman Catholic, official statistics show.

Its economy depends mainly on high-end tourism, and passing the bill may ease concerns of some visitors.

"Our constitution clearly states that all persons are equal and this is what our party believes in," opposition leader Francesca Monnaie of the Popular Democratic Movement told SNA.

"So I do not see why we should discriminate against a specific group based on their sexual orientation."

- 'Life goes on' -

The bill amended a section of the penal code dating back to British colonial rule that penalised anyone who "has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature".

Foreign Affairs Minister Joel Morgan had sought to ease concerns among some politicians and church leaders, including Roman Catholic Bishop Denis Wiehe, SNA reported.

"A sin is not determined by the government but by religion," Morgan said, explaining it was not an issue for the judicial system.

"Each individual needs to follow his or her conscience on the issue."

Fabianna Bonne, who heads the country's only gay rights campaign group, said efforts would now focus on educating society.

"We have noted that misconceptions and negative stereotyping is very widespread," Bonne told SNA.

"Our aim, however, remains full equality across all aspect of citizenship -- for after all, we pay our equal share of taxes and participate actively in the development of our country."

Anglican Bishop James Wong said the church had opposed the repealing of the law, but that all would be welcome in his congregation.

"The church is not pushing out those who are practising sodomy," he said, adding that "life goes on," and that "we should not discriminate against anyone."

Elsewhere in Africa, South Africa leads the way on gay rights. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa has had one of the world's most liberal legal frameworks for homosexuals.

But homosexuality remains a taboo subject in many nations, and repressive laws are widespread.

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