Love is no crime, the Rev Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) in Britain has said in response to a "horrific" 14-year prison term for a gay couple.
She has condemned "in the strongest terms" the sentence handed down by a judge in Malawi to Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, who were arrested in December 2009 after holding an engagement ceremony.
The couple have been sentenced to 14 years hard labour having been convicted of "gross indecency and unnatural acts".
Malawi is a conservative country where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism. The harsh sentence by Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa was given as a warning for others, "so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example."
Rev Sharon Ferguson said: “We are horrified and outraged by the sheer injustice, and downright cruelty of this sentence. We understand that murderers and rapists often receive more lenient sentences in Malawi. This young couple have done nothing other than love each other and celebrate this love with their family and friends. They have done no harm to anyone and indeed in a world of violence and hatred they have set an example of deep love and courage.”
LGCM says it is thankful for and fully endorses the support for the couple of OutRage!, Amnesty International and other civil, religious and human rights groups, and joins with them in urging people to make known their feelings about the case to the British and Malawi governments, and to write to the prisoners themselves.
Ms Ferguson added: “Steven and Tiwonge can appeal to the High Court but although this sentence goes against the clear protections of Malawi law against discrimination, the fear is that homophobia is so rife even among the most senior judges that the sentence will not be overturned. This treatment denies not only basic human rights but is an affront to the God of love.“
Commenting on behalf of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, which recently published research on 'Sex, orientation and theological debate' (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/11195 ), co-director Simon Barrow said: "While Christians of different opinion and background may argue about sexual morality, they should surely be fully united in rejecting the idea of criminalising and imposing harsh and cruel punishments upon same-gender couples."
He added: "Those in the churches who oppose same-gender sexual expression, but also say that they are not homophobic and do not wish to deny equal rights to LGBT people, have a particular duty to speak out - as they are most likely to be heard by those in Malawi and elsewhere who can effectively push to rescind this dreadful hard-labour 14 year prison sentence on Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. This is a test of basic human and Christian integrity."