By Juldeh Njie
Gambians from all walks of life have been speaking about the British Prime Minister’s same-sex marriage statement, majority of them describing it as ‘baseless and against the country’s common values’.
Theresa May has recently urged Commonwealth countries, including The Gambia to consider legalizing ‘same-sex marriage’ at the first joint forum at the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings in Westminster.
The Prime Minister said: “Across the world, discriminatory laws made many years ago, continue to affect the lives of many people, tens of millions of young people. Criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.”
The Prime Minister however admitted that it was Britain that introduced these anti gay laws into the statutory books of African countries during colonial era.
Reacting to this statement, Mbye Babou Chatty, a Facebook commentator, wrote: “Keep your senseless urges. We are bound by the religious laws which forbid this inhumane concept all in the name of democracy.”
Muhammed B Sowe said: “I think what the British Prime Minister fails to understand the dynamics of African society particularly The Gambia. It is not for her to tell us to accept practices that we consider as an affront to our culture and values. Just because same-sex marriage is accepted in UK doesn’t mean the same should apply to us as Africans.
“So I think it’s wrong for her to encourage Africans to allow the practice when the same British recognizing the same act to be immoral more than 50 years ago, wants to campaign for it.”
Ebrima Njie, said: “We cannot practice that [homosexuality] in this country. We are a country of men and women of high moral values. If Barrow or and government allows it, we will throw you away, we are Muslims and Christians”.
Lamin Jarju said: “Same-sex marriages are immoral and animalistic. We might as well relate to animals should the government accept it here in the country.”
Isatou Jallow said: “This is a ridiculous request by the British PM and should not be tolerated in our country. Mr President, don’t sign up on such a pledge please.”
The executive assistant at Torodo Chamers, Mary Gomez, said: “The British do not have any right to force us to accept certain things just because we are benefitting from them. If the President agrees and signs that, it means anytime we can be their pets and be thrown garbage.” She said Gambia is a sovereign state and should not agree to certain things, adding that Gambia is a religious country which is guided by the principles of religion.
“It’s a sin against God who made us, it’s like defiling your body and we are made to understand from the scriptures that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So by accepting this in our country it means we are going against what we believe in.”
Meanwhile, both the president Adama Barrow and information Minister Demba Jawo synonymously said homosexuality is not an issue in The Gambia.
President Barrow recently told the BBC that his government is working on making laws that would accommodate every Gambian.
There is no explicit section in the constitution that mentions “same sex marriage” but the state (police) can use section 144 of the Criminal Code to charge and prosecute persons who are involved in the act. Section 144 Unnatural Offences: It states that: (1) A person who-(a) has canal knowledge of any person against the natural order of nature; or (C) permits any person to have canal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature, Commits a felony, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of fourteen years(14years).
In addition, Section 144(2) states that carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” can include-a) canal knowledge of a person through the anus or mouth of a person; (b) inserting any object or thing into the vulva or anus of the person for the purpose of simulating sex; and (C) committing any other homosexual act with a person.
Another offence can also be used to charge a person who engaged in “indecent practice between males” or “indecent practice between females” under section 147 of the Criminal Code which describes it as an “act of gross indecency” which may mean homosexual act.
However, Madi Jobarteh, deputy director of Tango, said human beings have rights because they are humans and they have various natural characteristics which include sexual orientation.
He said: “We cannot discriminate anyone on the basis of those characteristics or just because one religion or cult says otherwise. Hence if a human being is gay he or she has a right to be so and that right must be respected and protected.”
“The call by the British PM to the Gambian President to respect gay rights is nothing strange in diplomacy or international relations. Thus the fact that Theresa May called on Barrow to protect gay rights does not mean the British are seeking to impose anything on us,” he added.
He said fundamental human rights are stipulated and guaranteed including the right to sexual orientation under Section 32 on the right to practice one’s culture and Section 33 on protection from discrimination.
Imam Abdoulie Fatty, an outspoken religious cleric and former Imam of State House, quoted a particular Sura in the Quran about the people of Lout (Lot) who were punished for practicing homosexuality not as marriage but to gain sexual pleasure.
“People should be very careful in what they support because Allah destroyed the people of Lout who knew of the practice but refused to talk and even the wife of Lout who was supporting gays.
“Even animals don’t practice same-sex marriage, why must we the humans do things that even the animals forbid? This is a big insult to the African contintent, we are not forcing them to accept our religions or even cultures so let them not impose things that are against our religion.”
On President Barrow’s remarks that his government will make ‘laws that will favor everybody’, Fatty said it is impossible for any law to favor everybody.
“If the Muslims said they are against alcohol and prostitution and the government should criminalize it, are we not infringing on other people’s rights? The government cannot impose laws that the majority is against just to satisfy the minority,” he said.
In a report published by The Telegraph of UK in 2016, Pope Francis, the head of the Vatican, has said that “homosexuals should be considered” as part of the society, saying “Who am to judge people, I have no right to judge anybody.”
He said: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am i to judge them?”
He added: “We shouldn’t marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society.”
However, Pastor Francis Soska Forbs quoted the Bible saying that God created a woman because of aloneness, sexual satisfaction and procreation.
He said: “Homosexuality is an aberration, it is wrong, it does not glorify God, it is an abuse to humanity and a violation to who people are because if we all believe that God does not make mistakes, then God did not make me a mistake.”
He said the Gambia government and the African continent should make up their minds as to what they want and what they believe in.
He said homosexuality and any kind of aberration is a vile imagination which is like falling in love with trees, animals or any other thing for sexual satisfaction.
He said legalizing homosexuality is a sign of disrespect to our culture and beliefs that Gambians hold.
“Christianity doesn’t endorse it, God gave us life so that man to have proper fulfillment and pleasure in his sexuality and he formed us like that without mistakes.
“This is not our issue and even if Barrow accepts it, how will it help in our national development? Is it the purpose why we went back to the Commonwealth?” he quizzed.
He said it will totally be unwise for the Barrow government to make such a decision.
Gambia’s former President, Yahya Jammeh, said in 2008 that he will cut off the heads of gays found in this country.
He said: “Homosexuality is anti-god, anti-human, and anti civilization. Homosexuals are not welcome in the Gambia. If we catch you, you will regret why you are born. I have buffaloes from South Africa and Brazil and they never dated each other.
“We are ready to eat grass but we will not compromise on this. Allowing homosexuality means allowing satanic rights. We will not allow gay rights here.”
In September 2014, the National Assembly passed a law that imposes life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” Those who could face charges under this law are “serial offenders” and people living with HIV who are deemed to be gay or lesbian, according to the new law.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in 2014 that Gambia’s passage of a homophobic law puts the already persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community at even greater risk of abuse.
The rights defenders said what exactly constitutes “homosexuality” or a “homosexual act” is not defined in Gambian law.
Ebou Sohna, a UK-based Gambian gay rights activist, recently told The Standard that he is concern with the intolerance LGBTQ persons are likely to face from Gambian society if they choose to seize the seemingly hospitable environment accorded to them by the Barrow administration.
“Has the new Gambia government dug her own grave with her seeming or purported tolerance to homosexuality in The Gambia? This open extension to the LGBTQ community of the country the right to live and express their lives without hindrance has the potential of antagonizing the religion and culture sentimentalists of the country and therefore potential risk to the new government losing love and support so soon,” Sohna observed.
“Undoubtedly, I believe and will argue that the legitimate rights of this minority group should not be interfered with at any given time by any person or persons. But my worry is how the poor minority population will seize and enjoy this seemingly given rights in a society largely expected to become disturbingly intolerant to these rights,” Sohna lamented.
What’s – On –Gambia, a popular local online media blogged on Facebook a video scene in the streets in a particular part of the metropolitan area of the country in which a possible young gay person who cross-dressed in female attire, was terribly harassed, verbally assaulted, threatened, disgracefully, inhumanely treated and insulted.
In December 2014, Gambian authorities arrested three men and accused them of committing homosexual acts, which are punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under a law signed in October.
The arrests followed a security operation and the men have confessed that they are gay, according to the television report. Their nationalities were not named.
The new President Adama Barrow has come with a new hope for tolerance from across the board, but whether Jammeh’s anti gay laws will be removed from the constitution and gays protected by law, is a matter of wait and see.
Juldeh Njie works at The Standard and she is one of the brightest young journalists currently undergoing a diploma programme at the Gambia Press Union.