Hugh Ellis

The Ministry of Home Affairs has denied entry to two Namibian children born in South Africa, rendering them effectively stateless.

The twin girls’ parents are a same-sex couple, married in South Africa six years ago. The girls were born through a surrogate pregnancy. In terms of the surrogacy agreement, legal in South Africa, the couple have been registered as fathers on the babies’ South African birth certificates.

At the time of writing this column, one of the fathers, Namibian citizen Phillip Lühl, was suing the Minister of Home Affairs in an effort to have him compelled to issue travelling documents to the babies. A demonstration in support of the parents was also planned.

It is to be hoped that the parents get their way, and that their children are brought home to Namibia.

While same-sex marriages may not (yet) be legally recognized here, it is a widely accepted principle of immigration law that we recognize birth certificates and similar official documents issued in neighboring countries. It’s a central provision of the Namibian Constitution that the Government should not leave children stateless.

It’s well known that surrogacy is practiced by heterosexual couples in Namibia, albeit sometimes under the legal cover of ‘adoption’ or ‘guardianship’.

I would argue that any family – whether a same-sex couple, a single mother or father raising kids, an uncle or aunt raising orphans, even a group of single friends living together – is entitled to the State’s protection.

What this dispute really seems to be about is a nasty political homophobia, one that we should have gotten rid of by the enlightened year of 2021.

I realize it’s a lot to ask someone raised in a ‘Conservative Christian’ environment to be comfortable with same sex relationships, or anything outside of the ‘husband-and-wife-and-three-kids’ family. But in matters of State, one must put one’s personal views aside and make decisions for all people, whether they share your religious views or not.

I do not buy the idea that LGBT rights are ‘un-African’. While the couple at the center of the court case happen to be white, the overall movement for LGBT recognition has been led by black Namibians for many years. There is historical evidence to suggest that gay and lesbian, and especially bisexual and pansexual, people existed in Africa long before the white man ever set foot here.

Furthermore, not that it should matter for what a secular State does, if you really want to say that LGBT people are bad because God told Moses that they are, it’s worth asking yourself if you obey all the laws Moses set down more than 4000 years ago.

Do you not eat pork or prawns? Were you a virgin on your wedding day? Do you refuse disabled people entry into places of worship? I hope not. But it’s all there in that Leviticus and Deuteronomy you like to quote.

I would urge you to look up those scholars who favor a ‘thought for thought’ rather than a ‘word for word’ following of the Bible.

None of these arguments are original to me; a simple Google search will reveal them. Yet we Namibians shy away from having these debates, as through not offending the ‘established order’ is the most important thing.

The views posted in newspaper comments sections under this story make sad reading. Some Namibians, when presented with new information, resort to crass insults and tie themselves into rhetorical knots rather than change their opinions.

It seems that, as politician Jim Hacker muses in the BBC comedy series ‘Yes Minister’, ‘many things must be done, but nothing must ever be done for the first time.’

Hugh Ellis is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com