JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – On a calm autumn afternoon, newborn twins Maya and Paula lay peacefully on a mattress at a Johannesburg house, blissfully taking turns to bottle-feed and nap, oblivious of the uncertainty over their citizenship status.
They are daughters of a Namibian-Mexican gay couple, and the Namibian authorities have dragged their feet on issuing documents for the girls born to a South African surrogate mother to travel to Windhoek. They have demanded proof of a biological connection to the infants on the part of the parents, 38-year-old Phillip Luehl and his partner Guillermo Delgado, 36.
The men are now pinning their hopes on a Namibian High Court ruling, scheduled for Monday (April 19), to at least allow the infants to secure temporary documents to travel to Windhoek and join Mr Delgado and their two-year-old brother Yona. Before the babies arrived, the couple had applied for papers to ensure that they would be able to travel home to Namibia shortly after birth.
“To our surprise that… very innocent request was denied,” Mr Luehl told AFP. Now, “I’m here in South Africa with the girls and cannot travel, cannot enter Namibia,” he said as the girls’ 70-year-old grandmother, Ms Frauke Luehl, bottle-fed one while the other slept.
For now, a house in Johannesburg’s leafy suburb of Auckland Park is the girls’ temporary home. Mr Luehl and Mr Delgado argue that there is no legal basis to require DNA proof of a biological relationship, and that they are being targeted and discriminated against because they are a same-sex couple. “This requirement would never be asked from a heterosexual couple… (or) from a single mother who gave birth in South Africa, and comes to Namibia,” Mr Luehl said. Similarly, parents of adopted children would not be subjected to such requirements, he said. But the Namibian government has rejected accusations of discrimination.
Home Affairs Minister Frans Kapofi “did not agree to a request to issue the twins Namibian travel documents, because their entitlement to Namibian citizenship by descent had not been determined”, the government said in a statement last month, when the case was brought before the courts.
At the time, a crowd of activists rallied at a picket outside the court building in support of the twins. In a separate case, the couple’s first child Yona – also born through surrogacy – is still fighting for Namibian citizenship. When they proactively applied for the travel documents before the daughters’ birth, they did not expect an easy ride. “We were prepared… but not for this outright rejection by the Namibian government,” Mr Luehl said. Yet, he is optimistic about the upcoming court ruling.
“I’m positive,” said Mr Luehl, before picking up and rocking the babies, occasionally planting kisses on their heads. He whispered that one day he will tell them about the legal rigmarole they went through as newborns.
Homosexuality is illegal in Namibia under a rarely-enforced 1927 sodomy law dating back to its period of South African rule. Mr Luehl dubs the government’s refusal to allow his daughters to travel an “active act of discrimination… and state-sanctioned homophobia that is still very much in place”.
South Africa is the sole African nation that allows gay marriage, legalised in 2006. Elsewhere, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola and the Seychelles have decriminalised homosexuality.
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