Heather Murphy-RainesMalawi? Heard of it? If you say the country that Madonna controversially adopted a child from, you wouldn't be alone. It's not top on my radar either. It's a small African country that has a majority Christian population with a Muslim minority. One of the 20 poorest countries in the world, it is beset with crushing poverty and a life expectancy of 37 years.
Its justice is swift. Some might say harsh. Some even might say fickle. Its prisons are also over-populated beyond what any American would say is humane.
Two young men are headed to those prisons.
Two gay men.
Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, and Steven Monjeza, 26, were sentenced on Thursday.
What did they do that gained attention? They professed their love in a traditional engagement ceremony.
Their crime? Engaging in what judge Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa deemed “unnatural acts” and “gross indecency."
Their sentence? Fourteen years imprisonment with hard labor for a victimless crime.
Watch the details reported by CBS:
NewsJunkiePost.com reported that:
"The magistrate told the gay couple that 'gays don’t have a place in Malawi society, and that the country is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons." The judge added that the long prison term was “imposed to protect the public from people like you, and so others are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example.”
Some of you might say, so what? Some judge the men's lifestyle as immoral or opposing their own religious beliefs. Most African countries would agree. Homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 countries in Africa including Malawi. Some countries have even instituted the death penalty for repeat offenders and look the other way when lesbians are gang-raped. Some do ask why we should care here in the United States?
Why? It's estimated that $70 million of our taxpayer dollars support the Malawian government and its violation of America's beliefs in human rights and freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Your dollars support its form of justice.
The Associated Press reported:
"Betsy Chirambo, an adviser to President Bingu wa Mutharika, expressed concern over calls by some activists for the West to withdraw aid to Malawi because of the case. Up to 40 percent of Malawi's development budget comes from foreign donors."
Yes, they should be concerned.
Regardless of your feelings on homosexuality, do you really feel that a couple who wanted to commit to each other deserve 14 years of hard labor for wanting to love? Moreover, do we as Americans want our dollars to support a country capable of such heartless, draconian enforcement of law?
Most heartbreaking is Chimbalanga's response reported by CNN:
"I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless."
To me, liberty in the United States is meaningless if my tax dollars or my charitable dollars support a country that denies others their liberties and imprisons men for how they love.
Life is short. Life, averaging just a scant 37 years in Malawi, is even shorter.
Too little time not to love who you love.