Alternative lifestyles: The thin line between tradition, christianity, law and modernity
The mysterious death of model
and LGBTQ activist, Edwin Chiloba, led to a heated debate among a section of
Kenyans, one that has failed to fade away.
Edwin was celebrated in the fashion industry. But beyond the fashion lies a veil of LGBTQ controversy, a topic which is taboo in Kenya as only a few openly lift the lid on the goings-on.
At the top levels of government, the LGBTQ question is one that is of no priority.
During an interview last year with CNN, Christiane Amanpour asked President William Ruto whether Kenya would decriminalise homosexuality, and like his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, he said that the matter was a non-issue for Kenya.
“We have Kenyan law, we have the Kenyan Constitution, we have our tradition and customs. We will continue to respect other people’s customs as they respect our customs and traditions,” he said.
“As it is now, we are grappling with five million young people who do not have jobs, four million people who are hungry, and that is my concern. That is the focus of the people of Kenya at the moment. For now, let us focus on the real issues that affect the people of Kenya,” he added.
Kenya is one of the 69 countries in the world that have criminalised homosexuality. Efforts by activists to decriminalise it were thwarted by the High Court ruling in 2019 that upheld laws criminalising it. But how did we find ourselves here?
African communities lived a simple life yet sophisticated. Individuals were required to strictly adhere to set laws, customs and values. These norms constituted customary laws that guided a community to prosperity.
Homosexuality in the traditional African set-up is taboo.
Those who engaged in the act were punished and at sometimes excommunicated from the community with many believing that homosexuality is a foreign concept that was imported into Africa by colonialists.
However, according to Moi University history lecture Dr. Timothy Onduru, homosexuality among African communities existed though it was low key.
He says many people did not want to be identified as gay or lesbian owing to the implications that came with it.
“Homosexuality did exist in the traditional African setup, but it was secretive. Those who engaged in the act were regarded as social misfits,” says Onduru.
“The form of punishment that was given to such people was that they were exiled from the community.”
Dr. Onduru also notes that as societies progressed, conflict arose between tradition and laws when it came to homosexuality. Many believed that it eroded the African culture and beliefs.
“There will always be a conflict between tradition and law when it comes to homosexuality since it erodes African culture because it goes against the grain,” he says.
Asked whether Kenya should decriminalise same sex marriage, the historian and university don said that Kenya should not bend its laws and accept homosexuality as a way of life.
“At the moment most Kenyans cannot accept homosexuality as a way of life and a cultural value,” he said.
Christians around the world believe homosexuality is evil and immoral. Pastor T Mwangi of the Life Church International Limuru, says Christianity was founded by the teachings of the Bible and the Bible only defines and recognizes marriage of two parties of the opposite sex.
“The stand of Christianity is marriage of two parties of the opposite sex because Christianity is founded by the teachings of the Bible. And the Bible prohibits homosexuality,” he said.
“The stand of the Bible is the stand of Christianity,” Pastor T Mwangi says.
Pastor Mwangi also notes that there will always be a clash between Christians and LGBTQ victims because both enjoy equal and sweeping freedoms in the society.
“Society now says you have the freedom of expression, the same society gives Christians the freedom to worship and to express their faith. If my faith does not accept homosexuality, then the other person will feel like I am infringing on their freedom of sexual identity.”
“I believe it is a clash of human rights because all of us stand at a place of rights, expressing what I believe in and they too expressing their sexual orientation."
Asked how the Church is dealing with the LGBTQ victims, Pastor T Mwangi told Citizen Digital that homosexuality is a sin like any other and one cannot be kicked out of the Church for declaring his/her sexual orientation.
“There is nothing like a lesser sin and a bigger sin. Sin is sin and we have no right to kick you out of Church. You can’t kick a prostitute out of church because he/she exercises prostitution. The problem will only arise when you force your agenda on us," said Mwangi.
“We embrace every sinner because we know the gospel has the power to change them but we can’t embrace their lifestyle because we are guided by a manual called the Bible.”
In Kenya, same sex marriage is a criminal offence and it can earn one 14 years in jail. Constitutional lawyer Bob Mkangi says the constitution does not directly talk about the LGBTQ but it prohibits marriage between people of the same sex.
“The Constitution does not specifically and directly talk about LGBTQ. Article 45 (2) provides that every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex, based on the free consent of the parties,” said Mkangi.
“To this extent, the Constitution prohibits marriage between people of the same sex, regardless of their sexual orientation. However, the Constitution guarantees the protection of human dignity for all persons in article 28.”
Lawyer Mkaangi adds that even though the constitution prohibits same sex marriage, victims of LGBTQ are protected by other constitutional provisions that prescribe for equality, human dignity, non-discrimination and freedom for all.
“Apart from the provision forbidding marriage between persons of the same sex, which is assumed to only apply to LGBTQ persons, other provisions prescribe for equality, human dignity, non-discrimination and freedom for all regardless of sexual orientation.”
Asked whether homosexuality laws originated from traditional customs, lawyer Bob Mkangi told Citizen Digital that Kenya adopted the criminalisation of LGBTQ from British laws.
“Our written laws emerged colonially. They are British. Laws that applied in Britain as of Kenya's colonisation, were and continue to apply in Kenya. This is how Kenya adopted the criminalisation of LGBTQ issues which had been criminalised in the UK since 1533. In 1930, Kenya's Penal Code was adopted and with it the criminalisation of ‘offences against the order of nature’ retain.”
In 1954, the UK government appointed a committee to review laws dealing with homosexuality in the country. The lord John Wolfenden led committee would later in 1957 recommend decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain.
The old traditional African way of life has drastically changed over time. Human habits and norms have been overwritten by a new way of life – modernity.
Many people around the world have openly come out to declare their status or stand on homosexuality, something that was foreign in the traditional setup.
Fashion artist and environmentalist Winnie Juma says LGBTQ victims should not be discriminated against and should enjoy human dignity and freedoms like any other Kenyan.
“LGBTQ victims have equal rights like any other Kenyan. Relationships don’t make anyone less moral. Morality is how we treat people, relate and how we respond to them," Juma said.
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