In Africa, Progress and Setbacks for Gays

Namibian court ruled April 3 in favor of a German-born woman who had been refused permanent residence on the basis of her sexual orientation. That could have broad implications in a country whose president had vowed that homosexuals would be "uprooted."

Namibian High Court Judge Nic Hannah ruled in favor of the application brought by Liz Frank, who had been refused permanent residence for several years.

President Sam Nujoma last year promised in a speech that "homosexuals will be uprooted from Namibia," according to the daily newspaper The Namibian.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has been ordered to grant permanent residence to Ms. Frank, who has been living in Namibia for the past eight years. Frank arrived in the capital, Windhoek before Namibia, formerly South-West Africa, gained its independence. She later became involved in a relationship with a Namibian woman.

She applied for permanent residence in 1995, then again in 1996, but her applications were refused without any explanation by the immigration board. Frank applied again last year, but this time she expressed readiness to appear in person in front of the board. Again her application was turned down.

So Frank took her case to the High Court in Windhoek. She stated in her application that immigration had violated her constitutional rights to equality, freedom from discrimination, and the right to privacy. She also stated that she would already have acquired Namibian citizenship if she were married to a Namibian man.

In other words, Frank complained, the board turned down her applications purely on the basis of her sexual orientation. She found support in The Rainbow Project, the only gay and lesbian organization in Namibia, which has called the decision by the High Court a "mark of recognition of lesbian and gay relationships."

In neighboring Zimbabwe, where homosexual acts carry penalties from fines to up to 10 years in prison, President Robert Mugabe lashed out at homosexuals last week, saying their participation in a World Council of Churches assembly would violate traditional culture and Christian behavior. The WCC is considering the admission of homosexuals to an international meeting scheduled for December in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. The gay-rights group, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, has registered as a delegate, Mr. Mugabe said.

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