Homosexuality has now been decriminalized in Botswana, after the country’s high court ruled a set of laws unconstitutional in an unanimous vote.
“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized,” judge Michael Leburu said of the ruling according to the New York Times. “Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one’s personality.”
The ruling reverses vestiges of century-old colonialism during a time when these Penal Codes were introduced. Other former colonies like the country of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as India have similarly moved to decriminalize in the past two years. In Trinidad and Tobago, though a ruling was made in April 2018 saying sections of its Sexual Offences Act are unconstitutional, a final judgement in July will ultimately determine the status of the laws. When India decriminalized in September 2018, it became the 18th Commonwealth nation to eradicate the laws — among them are South Africa and Australia — but 36 other countries still have them on the books. This is just over half of the countries in the world that still criminalize homosexuality. It’s likely this that led Judge Leburu to call the Penal Code a “British import” developed “without the consultation of local peoples.”
In April 2018, the British Prime Minister Theresa May said she regretted the country’s role. “I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country,” she said. “They were wrong then and they were wrong now.” These laws not only shaped legal ramificaitons for queer and trans people but also have influenced the social ramifications as well. May went on to say that London would support Commonwealth members looking to reform the legislation.
In Botswana, the case that saw the laws overturned was brought by an anonymous gay man. At the time, those who committed homosexual acts in private or public could be sentenced up to seven years in prison, and there could be a five year sentencing for those who “attempt to” engage in such acts.
Bhutan, which was a British protectorate but not a Commonwealth country, passed decriminalization on Friday. And Angola, which is a former colony of Portugal, and is not a part of the Commonwealth, decriminalized in January.