I don’t know about you, but Jaclyn Friedman’s series last week filled me with all kindsa hope, or, at least, tamped down my hopelessness. Ending rape in conflict zones? Ending rape at all? My Eeyore side was looking askance at her pieces every day, slowly and cautiously persuaded that perhaps All Is Not Hopeless. Reading her was like reading Nicholas Kristof’s Mother’s Day article about the fierce spirit of the Ethiopian woman Mahabouba Mohammed, who managed to find her way to Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, an American doctor who has dedicated himself to repairing African fistulas, those horrifying consequences of unattended childbirth. You mean people can do something about the horrible waste of life, about the things we read about that make me want to crawl under a bed? Really? I wouldn’t say it quite made Eeyore’s tail wag, but she did lift an ear.
So let me add to the all-is-not-hopeless list. You’ve heard one or two people mention that President Obama made an announcement about gay rights recently, yes? Umm, yeah. So did another president—Joyce Banda, the new president of Malawi, in her first state of the nation address, according to the AP. The president of an African country—a country that recently sentenced two men to 14-year sentences for getting engaged—has declared that Malawi should repeal its laws against “indecency and unnatural acts.” Right now, the only African country that protects LGBT rights (on paper, at least) is South Africa. The trend in other African countries is toward more and more criminalization and punishment—with antigay attitudes one of Africa's U.S. imports, as Reverend Dr. Kapya Kaoma wrote here recently.
New York Times writer Frankie Edozien suggests that Banda’s motivation may be partly political and economic:
“Indecency and unnatural acts laws shall be repealed,” Mrs. Banda said in her first state-of-the-nation speech on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
There are certainly other motivations pushing Mrs. Banda to support gay equality. In her address, for instance, she noted that her government seeks to normalize relations with “our traditional development partners who were uncomfortable with our bad laws.”
Malawi is a small country, with up to 60 percent of its 15.4 million people living below the poverty line. So when Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain recently threatened to cut off aid to countries that violate the civil rights of gays and lesbians, it likely resonated with Mrs. Banda.
But so what? No politician’s motives are ever pure. That’s their job: to get things done. The previous Malawian president—even as he pardoned the engaged couple, after one of them repudiated homosexuality—still denounced the couple’s crime, despite European pressure. President Joyce Banda may not get this change through her parliament, but even prominently calling for decriminalization softens social attitudes and sends a signal to the police about how they’re expected to treat LGBT citizens. Good for her.
We’ve had some good news back home, too, news that didn’t surprise my inner Tigger one little bit. The national board of the NAACP endorsed full marriage equality. It was an important move—and the timing was spectacular, putting them out in front of any black church leaders who might be tempted to decry Obama’s support. (The NAACP has long been more supportive of LGBT rights than have the black churches; local NAACP chapters have stood up for LGBT rights, most notably in California.)
Meanwhile, Maryland’s top court has ruled that a lesbian couple can file for divorce in the state. This is big, and not just for the couple, who marred in California in 2008 and later separated. (Imagine being kinda-sorta married still to your spouse because you married in one state and then moved to another, where they refused to divorce you because they didn’t recognize your marriage. Could creditors still hound you for your ex’s debts? Would you still be on the hook for, oh, child support if she ever had a child and, later, the federal government decided it did recognize your marriage? What a legal nightmare.) This means that—even if voters repeal the marriage equality law that the legislature passed and the governor signed—Maryland must still recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That puts Maryland on the list of states I can safely visit. I'll bring my clutch of yes-we-belong-to-each-other papers anyway—you never know. But still, what a relief!
Tigger’s tail is thumping soundly.