Zimbabwe's leaders unite to dismiss gay rights

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The Independent Online

During the years of struggles for power in their ailing country, Zimbabwe's feuding leaders have rarely found a topic on which they have been of the same mind.

But in uttering the words "I totally agree with the President," Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister, and Robert Mugabe were as one on the issue of refusing to consider gay rights for the country's constitution.

The pair – the heads of an uneasy unity government since disputed elections in 2008 – yesterday faced down demands to include gay rights in constitutional reforms.

Same-sex relations are illegal in Zimbabwe, as in many other African nations, where gays are subject to intimidation and harassment. Only South Africa has legalised same-sex marriage on the continent, and even there, there can be wide differences between the liberal constitution and social attitudes.

At a belated event to mark International Women's Day – held under the theme "Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All" – both men said they were strongly opposed to any constitutional reforms that included gay rights. President Mugabe said that Zimbabwe would never succumb to what state-run media described as shameless foreign traditions.

"I want to see how they will procreate. If they manage, then I will admit that I do not know," Mr Mugabe was quoted as saying in the state-owned Herald newspaper. "It is just madness, insanity." He has previously visited the issue when he described homosexuals as "lower than pigs and dogs," sparking international condemnation.

Despite the tense relations between the two, Mr Tsvangirai strongly backed his power-sharing partner.

"Women make up 52 per cent of the population... There are more women than men, so why should men be proposing to men?" he said, according to the BBC.

Even though homosexuality is banned in the country, one networking group – Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe – is allowed to operate. Homosexuals face discrimination and punishment in many African nations. In Uganda, an MP introduced a bill that would make homosexuality punishable by prison or even death. A gay couple has gone on trial in Malawi, charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency.

The International Federation for Human Rights says that 46 of 53 Commonwealth nations marginalise same-sex couples. It sent an open letter to the secretary general of the Commonwealth his week to express its concern about countries rewriting their laws to penalise same-sex couples, and the rise in ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention of gays and lesbians.

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