A top Tanzanian official has ruled out lifting the country's ban on gay marriage despite growing acceptance of same-sex couples elsewhere. Amon Mpanju, the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and Justice, spoke in favor of the law at a meeting Monday in Dar es Salaam to debate a recent report on the state of human rights in Tanzania, the local Daily News reported.
“While you are discussing, you should note that the government will never entertain recommendations that are contrary with the law of the land and the cultural norms of the society,” Mpanju said.
National leaders had been meeting to decide how to respond to nearly 230 recommendations made by member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body to which Tanzania had sent its human rights report in May, according to the Daily News. Tanzanian officials decided to adopt 130 of the recommendations and reject about 70 of them for violating their cultural traditions, Lukwangle reported.
Homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania, where the penal code states that any person who "has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature … or permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature" can be sent to prison for 30 years to life, according to a 2014 United States Library of Congress report. Men can also be sentenced to 20 years in prison for sodomy, or five years for "gross indecency."
"Tanzania is a country where human rights are not respected. [Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people need to be recognized and respected as human beings, and Tanzania doesn’t recognize us as human beings,” activist James Wandera Ouma told the Windy City Times, an LGBT newspaper in Chicago, in 2014. "We want to see Tanzania be a country where people are free to express themselves."
Elsewhere on the conservative continent, same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa and homosexuality was recently decriminalized in Mozambique.
The discussion around which rights LGBT Africans should enjoy has been going on for some years. U.S. President Barack Obama involved himself in the debate last year when he visited Kenya, his father's homeland, and urged countries to stop cracking down on same-sex relationships.
"I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law. And that they are deserving of equal protection under the law and that the state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation," he said, according to CBS News. "When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they're doing anybody but because they're different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen."
Afterward, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters that improving LGBT people's rights was "a non-issue."