The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has said the gay engagement between Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steve Monjeza in 2010 was a missed opportunity to clearly articulate whether the rights discourse under the Constitution permit same-sex relationships.
MLS president John Gift Mwakhwawa said this on Thursday during a meeting at Ryalls Hotel organised by Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) in collaboration with Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
The meeting was organised with the purpose of providing a platform for legal experts in Â Malawi to debate on the rights of vulnerable groups in terms of human rights with specific reference to the Constitution.
Said Mwakhwawa: â€œWe are saying that the Aunt Tiwo case should have been used to define legal rights and legal environment plus put fresh those bare rights provisions that we have in the Constitution because it leaves the debate to carry on to date.
â€œThere is need to beef the provisions in the Constitution, we need to take the rights of the minority, including sexual minorities and litigate them, define the content, extent and nature of these rights. That is where we were denied the opportunity in the Aunt Tiwo case.â€
Mwakhwawa also said the biggest challenge for lawyers in dealing with minority rights cases, especially same-sex relationships, is stigma which comes with religious, cultural and political influence.
â€œWe can deal with these challenges if we open up debate as the President did when she opened Parliament. There is also need for government to re-look into the law and permit the culture of debate on what is at stake [and] to re-look at the Constitution and define ourselves within the rights fabric that we have,â€ said Mwakhwawa.
Speaking on behalf of the organisers, Cedep director Gift Trapence said there is a lot of confusion between rights to gay marriages and same-sex relationships. As such, the interpretation and recommendations put forward by the lawyers will help people clearly understand and enable them to take a stand based on legal interpretation.
â€œThis is just the beginning of the meetings. We will have similar ones in Lilongwe and Mzuzu and finally a national one… This issue has been discussed from religious and cultural perspective, but we wanted to get the legal perspective.
â€œI believe that we are moving in the right direction because we are not talking about gay marriages, but sodomy laws. Coming from lawyers, when they interpret the law, people will get what we are saying as activists on repealing and separation of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gay marriages,â€ said Trapence.