Gabon has voted to decriminalise homosexuality in a landmark ruling.

In 2019, Gabon became the 70th country in the world to ban gay sex under a penal code that vowed to publish ‘offenders’ with up to six months in jail and a fine of five million Central African francs (over £6,300).

At the country’s National Assembly on Tuesday (30 June), 48 members of parliament – including Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale – voted to revise the archaic law, while 25 abstained and 24 voted against.

Jessye Ella Ekogha, a spokesperson for Gabon’s presidency, told Reuters that it was “adopted with a large majority of 59 votes” in the Senate. In a closed door session, 17 Senators voted against the move and four abstained.

Gabon historically joins Seychelles, Angola, Mozambique and Botswana as one of the few countries in Africa to reverse a ban on same-sex relations. It will now be ratified by President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Bekale previously praised the ruling on Twitter, writing: “I have religious convictions. I am tolerant and I respect human life. Just as I am against the death penalty, I am also against the stigmatization of homosexuals.

“Congratulations to the parliamentarians for having changed mentalities and been able to adapt to time.”

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, the wife of Bongo, welcomed the new initiative last week on social media. “Parliament is restoring a fundamental human right for its citizens: that of loving, freely, without being condemned,” she wrote. “The republic defends respect for everyone’s privacy and remains one and indivisible beyond feelings. Yes to dignity, no to hate.”

The decision to reverse part of the law, barely a year after it was voted in, has divided opinions on social media and sparked mass debate in the central African nation, where homosexuality is still widely viewed as taboo.

Prior to the vote, Senator Jean-Christophe Owonu Nguema slammed the proposed law change, stating: “My religious convictions, my education and the vision I have for my country do not permit me to accept such an abomination.”

The Catholic archdiocese in Libreville also urged senators to vote against it.

“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,” they said in a June 24 statement.

London-based human rights group the Human Dignity Trust praised Gabon for their monumental step forward.

“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,” said legal chief Victoria Vasey.