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Kenya's LGBTQ Ruling Stirs Debate

FILE - An LGBT activist walks past anti-gay rights protesters holding placards, after a ruling by Kenya's high court to upheld a law banning gay sex, outside the Milimani high Court in Nairobi, Kenya May 24, 2019.

NAIROBI — A ruling by Kenya's Supreme Court allowing registration of LGBTQ association has been hailed as a step forward in gay rights, though homosexual relations remain illegal in Kenya and one lawmaker is pushing a bill to increase the maximum punishment.

Last week, President William Ruto criticized the Supreme Court's February ruling as "against the country's culture and religion." The hashtag #SayNoToLGBTQinKENYA trended for days following the ruling as a national debate was sparked.

The LGBTQ community in Kenya and rights advocates have praised the high court’s ruling as a step forward in gay rights.

Parliamentary member Peter Kaluma says LGBTQ individuals have no rights in Kenya under the constitution, and he has introduced a bill to increase the maximum punishment for anyone found guilty of same-sex relations to death.

"Currently under the current law, if homosexuals, the people who engage in homosexuality do so by consent, the punishment is seven years. Where one is forced or coerced to engage in homosexuality, the punishment is fourteen years," Kaluma said.

"But that has not sufficiently deterred these homosexuals. And so, we are increasing the penalty. In some cases, it will be life imprisonment. In cases where there is no consent, we are going to institute the death penalty. And that is going to be very explicit in this law," he added.

Petite, as she wishes to be identified, a member of the LGBTQ community in Nairobi, said the ruling would empower the community.

"It will allow those who have been hiding in fear to come out and to register as a rainbow community. Being recognized is important because our members have faced attacks and some even killed," Petite said.

Religious leaders have blamed what they call "unchecked freedoms" in the constitution for the ruling by the country’s top court.

"It’s one of those areas on freedom of association without limits that the Supreme Court used to issue an order to the body that is registering NGOs to register gay movements, that they have a right to association," Rev. Calisto Odede, presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries, said.

Kenyan first lady Rachel Ruto has volunteered to lead national prayers against homosexuality in the country.

Meanwhile, many Western countries have legalized same-sex relations in recent decades, and just last month, the Church of England allowed a blessing ceremony for same-sex couples.

Odede argues tolerance in certain parts of the world does not make it right.

"It simply says that that community or the group that are making it acceptable are groups who have followed the culture rather than who are setting a trend for the culture to follow," Odede said.

While the Kenyan constitution guarantees right to freedom of association, same-sex relations remain illegal in the country.