Tropical island of Mauritius could be next country to make gay sex legal

Tropical island of Mauritius could be next country to make gay sex legal

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The tropical island of Mauritius could be on a path to decriminalise gay sex as a second case against the current law comes to the Supreme Court.

Abdool Ridwan Firaas Ah Seek, a 29-year-old human rights activist, claims Section 250 is unconstitutional. The law dates from 1898 when Mauritius was under British colonial rule and punishes ‘sodomy’ with five years in prison.

His lawyers argue the law goes against fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of Mauritius. These include the right to  equality, privacy, freedom of expression, personal liberty, non-discrimination and protection against inhuman and degrading treatment.

A law change may also be good for the economy. Mauritius lies in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa. Its warm seas, pristine beaches and stunning plants and flowers make tourism a large part of the economy.

Second case against Section 250

Ah Seek’s case is not the only appeal against the law currently before the Supreme Court of Mauritius.

Another 29-year-old, Najeeb Ahmad Fokeerbux, founder of Mauritian LGBT+ group Young Queer Alliance, and three other young gay men are also challenging the law.

The cases represent frustration with the government for failing to strike down the colonial-era law.

The country’s Law Reform Commission said Section 250 should be scrapped in 2007. Furthermore Former Attorney General Rama Valayden tried to pass a law to make consensual same-sex activity legal but failed to get it through.

The government of Mauritius promised to reconsider the issue in 2017. But since then, progress has stalled.

Court hearings will continue early in 2020 and both groups hope to have the law struck down next year. However, they accept it may be 2021 before the court rules.

Archaic law

The largest and oldest LGBT+ organisation in Mauritius, Collectif Arc-En-Ciel (CAEC), is supporting Ah Seek’s case.

They say prosecutions for gay sex are rare under Section 250. However, the fact the law exists means LGBT+ people are stimatized. CAEC says that makes people less likely to go for HIV testing and encourages hate speech and discrimination.

‘Section 250 is like the sword of Damocles hanging over the lives of LGBT Mauritians. The time has come to repeal this discriminatory law that unfairly targets members of our society simply because of who they love,” said Aschwin Ramenah, Director of CAEC.

‘The way in which adults lead their lives in close, consensual relationships in the privacy of their own homes should never be a matter for state interference. Archaic laws like Section 250 have no place in our modern and democratic society.

‘Challenging Section 250 opens a new chapter in Mauritian  history. The CAEC hopes that the Supreme Court will relegate this law to the history books, and our country can finally live up to its reputation as a rainbow nation, where every citizen enjoys the same constitutionally-protected rights and is treated with equality and dignity.’

Other LGBT+ laws in Mauritius

Despite Section 250, LGBT+ people do have some protections under Mauritian law.

Since 2008, the law has protected them from discrimination at work and as customers of shops and other businesses. Furthermore, hate speech is illegal, gay and bi men can to give blood and lesbians can access IVF.

The Law Reform Commission is even reportedly considering legalising same-sex marriage.

However, Mauritius doesn’t recognise same-sex marriage or partnerships and same-sex couples can’t adopt children together. Trans people face a lot of prejudice and don’t have the legal right to change their gender on official documents.

Attitudes on the island vary widely. On the one hand, Mauritius relies heavily on tourism for its economy and many of the island’s resorts actively welcome same-sex couples from abroad.

Moreover, young people are thought to widely support LGBT+ rights. And a 2016 survey showed that half of Mauritians would be content to have an LGBT+ neighbor.

However, there is still widespread prejudice.

In particular, when CAEC tried to hold an LGBT+ Pride in 2018, they received hundreds of threats of death and mutilation. In the end, they had to cancel the event. It is thought the campaign was orchestrated by Islamic extremists.

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Author: Tris Reid-Smith

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