(Adds details, reaction)
By Gerauds Wilfried Obangome and Bate Felix
LIBREVILLE, June 29 (Reuters) - Gabon’s Senate voted on Monday to decriminalise homosexuality, a landmark result that makes the country one of the few in Africa to reverse a ban on same-sex relationships.
Under a law passed in 2019, Gabon became one of 73 countries or jurisdictions around the world, including more than two dozen in Africa, where sex between men and between women was illegal.
The government’s move to reverse part of the law has sharply divided opinion and sparked intense debate on social media in the central African nation, where homosexuality is still broadly seen as a taboo.
Efforts to remove legislation criminalising homosexuality still face challenges elsewhere. In Botswana, the government has said it will appeal a high court ruling that legalised same sex relationships.
The government did not explain why it decided to revise the law. The bill won the support of the lower house last week.
In the Senate, it “was adopted with a large majority of 59 votes”, Jessye Ella Ekogha, a spokesman for Gabon’s presidency, told Reuters.
In a closed door session, 17 Senators voted against the move and four abstained.
It will now be ratified by President Ali Bongo. Bongo’s wife, Sylvia, has voiced support for the bill, saying the ability to love freely without being condemned is a fundamental human right.
London-based rights group the Human Dignity Trust said Gabon had taken a hugely welcome step.
“Gabon now joins African states such as Seychelles, Angola, Mozambique and Botswana who have chosen to rid their lawbooks of archaic provisions which enable discrimination, violence and harassment against LGBT people,” legal chief Victoria Vasey said.
Some politicians and religious authorities had expressed their disapproval ahead of Monday’s vote.
The Catholic archdiocese in Libreville urged senators to vote no.
“In the name of the wisdom of our ancestors, contained in our various cultures, which celebrates life, love, family, we say no to the decriminalisation of homosexuality,” it said in a June 24 statement.
Writing by Alessandra Prentice Editing by Alison Williams, Giles Elgood and Sonya Hepinstall