My daughter will be turning four next week. She’s a strange girl, this one. A ball of energy from the day she was born. She can’t stop talking. She brings out the extrovert in my otherwise introverted life.
Thanks to her neighborhood escapades in search of friends and play, she has forced me to know the names and faces of neighbors I would have otherwise ignored. With a personality the exact opposite of mine, sometimes I wonder if God took all the things I hated about people and decided to put them into someone I cannot help but love.
I wonder what I will do if one day she walks in from school, calls a family meeting and looking straight into my and her mother’s eyes, says: “Dad, mum, I think I am sexually attracted to other women.”
I’d like to think that I would be a supportive father. After all, I know a few friends who are gay. Decent people just trying to go about life and earn their keep. One of these friends is a digital design guru and works for a global advertising agency.
He seldom talks about his sexuality unless the topic requires it. It is not what defines him. He is not a gay-rights activist. He is just a Kenyan, a digital advertising mastermind who spends too much time on social media because, as he puts it, “it’s work-related.”
The one thing I know my friend talks about a lot, though, no matter the topic, is what family means to him. One of his favorite movie lines is from the Fast and Furious franchise. Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto memorably says: “I don’t have friends. I have family.” I am not his biological brother, but I am his family, and he, mine.
On this UN International Day of Families (May 15), I am forced to deeply reflect on what role the family plays in the health, safety, and wellbeing of those who claim to be its members.
This is especially because my friend’s sexuality has recently been the topic of public debate and public outrage in Kenya. As I write this, Homa Bay Town MP is busy drafting and redrafting his The Family Protection Bill that he claims will protect Kenyan families from the “dangers of homosexuality.”
I find it strange that, despite borrowing heavily from the Kenyan and Ghanaian anti-homosexuality bills, Kaluma opted to name his The Family Protection Bill. I believe this naming to be a misnomer and a devious attempt to conceal the very narrow focus of the proposed law – it is an attempt to suppress any definition of sexuality and gender that does not adhere to the traditional Judeo-Christian definitions.
Article 45 of the Kenyan constitution (in the Bill of Rights) states that “the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and the necessary basis of social order and shall enjoy the recognition and protection of the State.”
I would argue that virtually every law that currently exists to protect the welfare of individual members of this “natural” family is a Family Protection Law. The Marriage Act exists to offer legal protections to the marrying parties in case of a fallout or the loss of the mutual goodwill between partners.
The Sexual Offences Act exists to protect the rights of individual persons who may fall victim to sexual crimes. The Lands Act exists to prevent the unlawful dispossession of individual Kenyans (and family members) from their land property. I could go on.
Strange, then, that the one law that explicitly claims to “protect the family” has been designed to do the exact opposite – to isolate one member of the family from the rest of society by shaming them, victimizing them, and stripping them of their right to simply claim a decent existence.
This is not a case for legalizing same-sex marriage. In fact, if same-sex marriage was ever to become legal in Kenya, the Marriage Act would still exist to protect the individual rights of the marrying parties – whatever their sexual and gender identity. The law would not be created to define sexuality, but to recognize and protect the fundamental human rights of those opting to sign the contract – as is the case with the current marriage law.
Every day we are forced to confront harrowing headlines about families being ripped apart by domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, and the latest tragedy – the dangerous religious teachings of cultic pastors like Paul Makenzi. Laws that protect any Kenyan from such clear and present dangers are laws that protect Kenyan families.
On Sunday, during Mother’s Day, and my friend travelled upcountry to spend time with his mother and a few cousins who tagged along. They spent the day cooking, eating, hanging out in the front-yard, feeding chickens, and doing some minor repairs to the house. He spent the day with family. His family. I wonder if his mother felt threatened.
I wonder if my family would feel threatened if my daughter ever told me she was attracted to other women. What I know for sure is that with Kaluma’s law in place, my family would be threatened because it would no longer be safe nor legal to love my daughter.
Mr Kariuki is a communications specialist and a Director at Red Planet PR