NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) An Anglican priest has joined two gay men and two lesbians in a suit against the state over discriminatory laws that they see as encroaching on the rights and freedoms of sexual minorities in the East African country.
The Rev. Mark Odhiambo and the other plaintiffs charge that gays and lesbians in Kenya are routinely attacked, raped, evicted from their homes and arbitrarily arrested. Odhiambo is a curate, or assistant to the parish priest, in Maseno South, a diocese on the shores of Lake Victoria.
“I serve in the city and I have seen many of them facing serious challenges because their sexual orientation does not conform to that of the general society,” said Odhiambo. “They are subjected to all sorts of violence, both physical and sexual.”
Odhiambo, a married father of four, said increasingly gays are seeking acceptance in the society.
It is not clear whether his job is at risk, but his action has ignited the ire of bishops, who reiterate that the Anglican Church in Kenya does not condone homosexuality.
In September, the Mount Kenya West Anglican diocese revoked licenses and suspended five priests over allegations that they were gay. They have since gone to court to challenge the suspension.
“I know some clergy and other people in the church who support homosexuality for money,” said Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa. “I think the priest is driven by material gains. I don’t think he is serious.”
The suit does not ask for monetary damages.
Filed in a Kisumu, Western Kenya, courthouse on Thursday (June 9), the suit asks that gay people’s rights be protected through a review of the laws, which they claim breach international laws.
One of the plaintiffs, a gay man living with HIV, said he was denied medicine because of his sexual orientation. One of the women said she was gang-raped, attacked and arrested; another said she was evicted from her home.
They also want the state to develop policies that protect sexual minorities.
The judge certified the suit as urgent and directed that it be forwarded to the chief justice, so he can appoint a judge.
“This is what we have been fighting for all these years. These rights belong to everyone,” said the Rev. Michael Kimindu, president of Other Sheep Africa, a group that advocates for LGBT people.
“Gay people are everywhere. They are in churches, in farming communities, in schools, in the army. … Kenyans cannot reject their own because of one aspect.”
As in most African countries, gay sex is illegal in Kenya. In the continent, religious leaders overwhelmingly oppose homosexuality as contrary to God’s teaching and African culture.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, 90 percent of Kenyans oppose gays. A July 2014 survey by Ipsos found that 64 percent of Kenyans believe that gay behavior is a personal choice.
But recently gays in Kenya have intensified the demand for their rights, bringing to courts cases seeking recognition of their unions and a review of discriminatory laws.
(Fredrick Nzwili is an RNS correspondent based in Kenya)