By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com May 19 2010 6:25 PM ET
The State Department has issued an official statement on Tuesday's conviction of a gay couple in Malawi (pictured), who were deemed to have violated their nation's laws by celebrating their engagement to be married.
"The United States is deeply disappointed in [the] conviction of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi," said assistant secretary Phillip J. Crowley at a press briefing Wednesday. "We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. The government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens. The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world."
Chimbalanga, 20, and Monjeza, 26, were jailed in December for holding a public engagement ceremony. They were convicted of "unnatural acts and gross indecency" and face up to 14 years in prison. In January, Malawi information minister Leckford Mwanza Thoto said the couple had broken the law and that "as government, we cannot interfere in the court process." In response to outcry from Westerners about the case, he said, "We depend on our Western friends, yes, but we are a sovereign country."