Angola Decriminalized Same-Sex Relationships With Its New Penal Code, Human Rights Watch Says

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On Wednesday, the Human Rights Watch reported that Angola decriminalized same-sex relationships, outlawing discriminatory behavior against people based on their sexual orientation. Under the new penal code, employers and other services will not be allowed discriminate against an Angola citizen based on their sexual orientation. And if they do so, they could end up in jail for at least two years.

The Angola parliament adopted a new criminal code on Wednesday, the first time it's done so since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975. The Human Rights Watch reported that under its former colonial law, there was a "vices against nature" provision, which human rights advocates decried as homophobic. It's worth noting that this won't be the first time a colonial-era provision essentially criminalized homosexuality in colonized countries.

The move to decriminalize same-sex relationships is long overdue, according to the Human Rights Watch. "In casting aside this archaic and insidious relic of the colonial past, Angola has eschewed discrimination and embraced equality," the agency's LGBTQ director, Graeme Reid, wrote.

Of the previous provision, Reid noted, "While there have been no known prosecutions under the law, provisions like this one curtail the rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, subjecting their intimate lives to unwarranted scrutiny."

Human rights groups have been keen about covering homophobia in African nations. Among them is Amnesty International, another human rights agency, which released a detailed report in 2018 about the African countries where it is and isn't legal to have same-sex relationships.

At that time, Angola was listed as one of the countries where homosexuality was illegal. Still, it's worth noting that in 2018, the Angolan government legalized the country's LGBTQ group, Iris Angola, in a move that seems to have paved the way for Wednesday's development.

Other African countries where homosexuality is legal include places like São Tomé, Príncipe, South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cape Verde, and a few others.

With the new criminal code in Angola, members of the country's LGBTQ community are more likely to feel safe expressing themselves out in the open.

Whether it comes down to applying for jobs as a gay individual or wanting to show one's love and affection without being subjected to hostility and bigotry, the new penal code could make life much easier for many gay and lesbian Angolans.

Honing in on the point of treating LGBTQ members with respect, Human Rights Watch's Reid wrote in 2015 about the effects of criminalizing same-sex relationships and how they have an especially damaging impact on young people.

"What message does it send to young LGBT people that their most intimate desires are subject to criminal sanction by the state?" Reid wrote that year. "Young LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to a negative self-image and potential self-harm. Social opprobrium matters very much."

"It is a damaging message when the law says that you are less worthy than your peers," Reid added.

With the Portuguese colonial provision out of the way, things may change for better in Angola.