July 2023 | Namibian legislators approve anti-gay marriage bills overriding Supreme Court ruling
In July, majorities in both houses of Namibia’s parliament voted in favour of two bills purporting to override a ruling from the country’s Supreme Court in May 2023 that recognised same-sex marriages performed abroad. The draft legislation prohibits same-sex marriage, including those conducted abroad, by defining ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ in heterosexual terms and by criminalising the solemnisation, participation in, promotion, or advertisement of same-sex marriage in Namibia. Both bills were introduced in the National Assembly (the lower house) on 7 July as private members bills by a member of the governing SWAPO Party, before being passed by the Assembly on 12 July and the National Council (the upper house) on 19 July. Before becoming law, the bills will need to be approved once more by the National Assembly and signed by Namibia’s President. The speed of the legislative process was criticised by the country’s Ombudsman, who said that it prevented the necessary public scrutiny. Legal experts have also questioned the constitutionality of the bills.
May 2023 | Supreme Court recognises same-sex marriages performed abroad
In a judgement delivered on 16 May, the Namibian Supreme Court ruled that the state must, for the purposes of immigration, recognise same-sex marriages validly concluded abroad between a Namibian and a non-citizen. It found that the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration’s denial of residency permits to foreign spouses in two such marriages, violated the couples’ constitutional right to equality and dignity. The ruling makes Namibia the second African country, after South Africa, to recognise foreign same-sex marriages. However, the law in Namibia prevents same-sex couples from entering marriages and civil-partnerships and criminalises same-sex activity within the country.
March 2023 | First female judges appointed to Namibia’s supreme court
For the first time since its independence in 1990, Namibia has appointed female judges to serve on its supreme court. Lady Justice Rita Makarau, Lady Justice Johanna Prinsloo, and Lady Justice Esi Schimming-Chase will serve as temporary, Acting Supreme Court Judges from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024. Three male Acting Supreme Court Judges were appointed to serve one-year terms in January 2023. Under the Namibian constitution, Acting Judges can be appointed to the Supreme Court to fill casual vacancies or on an ad hoc basis where their expertise is required by a particular case. The small number of permanent Supreme Court Judges (presently four) and case backlogs have meant that there has been a significant demand for Acting Judges. The appointments were welcomed by gender equality activists in Namibia as the shattering of ‘a huge glass ceiling.’ However, the country’s Minister of Justice, Yvonne Dausab, cautioned that more needed to be done to transform the leadership of Nambia’s senior courts, which she said remained male-dominated.