Malawi President Joyce Banda has backed
away from a pledge to decriminalize being gay in the African nation.
In a interview with the AP, Banda, who
ascended to her position in April after the death of her predecessor,
President Bingu wa Mutharika, explained that she was respecting
public sentiment on the issue.
“Anyone who has listened to the
debate in Malawi realizes that Malawians are not ready to deal with
that right now,” she told the AP on Wednesday after addressing the
United Nations General Assembly. “I as a leader have no right to
influence how people feel.”
After assuming her office, Banda backed
repeal of Malawi's indecency and unnatural acts laws.
In 2010, Mutharika pardoned two men who
were charged with and found guilty of unnatural acts and gross
indecency for participating in a symbolic engagement ceremony.
However, Mutharika remained opposed to gay rights, describing the gay
ceremony as “satanic” and “a crime against our culture, against
our religion and against our laws.” The men had been sentenced to
serve 14 years of hard labor.
The sentence was condemned by the
United States and Britain. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley
called the harsh sentence “appalling.”
Banda said she wanted the international
community to let Malawi debate gay rights on its own terms.
“Where Malawi is and most African
countries are, is maybe where America or the UK were about 100 years
ago,” she said. “The best thing the world can do is to allow
each country to take its course, to allow each country to have that
debate freely without the pressure of being pushed.”