Blantyre — Religious leaders in Malawi led street protests Thursday against same-sex marriage, as a Dutch citizen and a transgender Malawian challenge laws in Malawi’s High Court against same-sex relations.
Hundreds of people in Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre, gathered Thursday to protest what they call the potential legalization of same-sex marriage in the country.
The protesters came from both of the country’s major religions — Christianity and Islam.
Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa led the protests in Blantyre. He said same-sex marriages are a sin, and allowing such unions would lead to the extinction of the human race.
“If we change the way we live as a family, it means we will cease to exist,” he said. “If we continue to marry a man with a man, surely the offspring, no children will come, then no life in the world, no life in Malawi.”
The nationwide protests come as the Constitutional Court in Malawi continues to hear a case in which Dutch national Jan Willem Akstar and transgender Malawian woman Jana Gonani argue that Malawi’s anti-homosexuality laws violate their fundamental rights, including privacy and dignity.
Homosexuality is an offense in Malawi and punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
However, civil society organizations have voiced concerns about discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals in the country.
Michael Kaiyatsa, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said religious leaders have a right to hold demonstrations about anything they feel is a sin, but they should also consider the rights of other groups.
“Our concern as human rights organizations is that this will have negative implications not only on the rights of LGBT persons, but it will also have negative implications on efforts to fight HIV,” Kaiyatsa said. “Because, what it will do is to roll back the gains that we have made on HIV among men who have sex with men, for example.”
Kaiyatsa said studies have shown that the prevalence rate of HIV and AIDS in those who engage in same-sex acts is about 40 percent, so discriminating against them would likely push the number even higher.
Eric Sambisa, executive director for Nyasa Rainbow Coalition, which fights for the rights of LGBTQ people in Malawi, said it is sad that religious leaders are fostering discrimination.
“The church is a powerful organization in society,” he said. “And seeing the church being in the forefront to demonstrate can actually fuel violence against an already disadvantaged community. So, it’s sad that this is happening like this.”
Sambisa told VOA that he has gone into hiding following death threats from anonymous callers. The threats came a few weeks after his office was burned down in Blantyre.
At Thursday’s demonstration, protesters presented a petition to the office of the district commissioner, in which they appealed to lawmakers never to accept any bill or pass any law aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage.