Pop superstar Madonna has released a statement condemning a Malawi court ruling sentencing a Malawi couple to 14 years imprisonment with hard labor because of so-called "unnatural acts and gross indecency."
Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who identifies as a woman, and Steven Monjeza were arrested last December after their wedding made headlines around the world. Last Thursday, the couple received the maximum sentence. Although the ruling has received little reaction from other African countries, many of which have similar laws, the global outcry has been strong. The U.S. State Department was "appalled" at the decision and said: "We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi." The Malawian court has labeled the couple a "sexual minority," a term comparable to LGBT in the U.S.
Madonna has been a champion of the small Southeast African country since adopting her son, David, there in 2006. In addition to founding the Raising Malawi initiative, which aids the country's one million orphans, Madonna wrote, narrated and produced I Am Because We Are, a documentary about the hardships facing Malawian children.
In her statement, Madonna said:
As a matter of principle, I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race, color, religion, or sexual orientation.
Today, Malawi took a giant step backward. The world is filled with pain and suffering; therefore, we must support our basic human right to love and be loved.
I call upon the progressive men and women of Malawi--and around the world--to challenge this decision in the name of human dignity and equal rights for all."
A musical icon to the LGBT community from the onset of her career, Madonna has always been outspoken in her support for LGBT equality. GLAAD commends Madonna for once again speaking out against this ruling in a country so near to her heart and hopes the growing global attention will ultimately lead to the release of Tiwonge and Steven.
Madonna has also started a petition calling for the release of Tiwonge and Steven. To add your name, please click here: http://www.raisingmalawi.org/AddYourName