An LGBTQ rainbow flag. Picture: JACK GUEZ / AFP
An LGBTQ rainbow flag. Picture: JACK GUEZ / AFP

Libreville — Gabon's senate on Monday voted to decriminalise homosexuality, sparking an outcry from traditionalists who charged that it went against local social and religious norms.

The central African country's National Assembly had voted late Tuesday to adopt an amendment to criminal legislation to remove a paragraph prohibiting “sexual relations between people of the same sex”.

On Monday, 59 senators in the upper house also voted to scrap the law, with 17 against and four abstentions.

It will formally become law once the president — whose government pushed for the amendment — ratifies it.

Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale said he had religious convictions, tolerance and respect for human life.

“As I am against the death penalty, I am also against the stigmatisation of homosexuals. Congratulations to the parliamentarians for having changed mentalities and being able to adapt to the times,” he tweeted.

Sylvia Bongo, Gabon's First Lady, also backed the move, saying in an online post that parliament had restored a fundamental human right for its citizens.

But several prominent politicians and religious leaders have reacted angrily to the development, saying it was an “un-African” measure aimed at appeasing foreign donors.

The criminalisation of homosexuality went almost unnoticed among Gabon's less than 2-million inhabitants when it was adopted in 2019. The text was introduced by the upper house in July 2019.

It stipulated that having homosexual relations in Gabon was considered “an offence against morality”, punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of 5-million CFA francs ($8,600).

Homosexuality is a criminal offence in more than half of sub-Saharan countries.

AFP, Reuters