An LGBT advocacy group in Kenya has won a historic court victory that will allow it to formally register with the government and could open the door for greater rights for LGBT people in the East African country.
The ruling overturns a bureacratic decision that blocked Kenya's National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission from operating as an officially recognized nongovernmental organization, on the grounds that Kenyan law "criminalizes gay and lesbian liaisons." That assertion was based on an obscure remnant of colonial law left over from British rule, reports BuzzFeed, which "makes it a crime for someone to have 'carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature."
But late last month, the High Court of Kenya overruled that decision by Kenya's NGO Coordination Board, determining it was wrong to deny the group's application simply because it included the words "gay" and "lesbian," notes BuzzFeed's Lester Feder.
"The court decision is a significant victory for the LGBT community, not only in Kenya, but elsewhere in Africa where LGBT groups have faced similar obstacles to registration," said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, in a written statement. "An LGBT organization's ability to register and advocate for its members is fundamental for free association, free speech, and equality under the law."
In fact, judges of the Constitutional Court in Nairobi expressed general skepticism about the relevance of the pre-independence statute, which amounts to an archaic "antibuggery" law in modern Kenyan life.
"That the State does not set out to prosecute people who confess to be lesbians and homosexuals in this country is a clear manifestation that such sexual orientation is not necessarily criminalised," the court wrote in its decision. "What is deemed to be criminal ... is certain sexual conduct 'against the order of nature,' but the provision does not define what the 'order of nature' is."
Human Rights Watch emphasized Kenya's treaty obligations to protect fundamental rights, including freedom of association, while congratulating the Kenyan jurists for their decision to reverse the NGO Coordination Board's denial.
While progress toward greater acceptance and equality for LGBT Kenyans is slow, last October Kenya's high court handed a transgender woman a landmark gender-recognition victory.