Malawi will review laws banning homosexuality in response to public opinion, according to reports.
The move comes just days after the United States announced it would use foreign aid to press countries to decriminalise homosexual acts. The US gives Malawi about $200-million a year, with most of the money going to healthcare.
Malawi was condemned by President Barack Obama and international activists last year after jailing two men who publicly declared their intention to get married, even though it is banned in the Southern African country.
It will now review provisions of the penal code concerning "indecent practices and unnatural acts", said Minister of Justice Ephraim Chiume.
"In view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws, the government wishes to announce to the Malawi nation that it is submitting the relevant laws and provisions of laws to the law commission for review," he told the Africa Review news website.
The decision followed protests by civil society groups and pressure from foreign donors. Last week Obama told US agencies to consider how countries treat their gay and lesbian populations when making decisions about allocating foreign aid. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told an audience of diplomats at the United Nations in Geneva: "Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights. Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality."
Last year in Malawi, gay couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were sentenced to 14 years in prison for sodomy after holding a traditional engagement ceremony.
President Bingu wa Mutharika called homosexuality "evil and very bad before the eyes of God" during their trial. He later pardoned them following a worldwide outcry against the punishment.
Homosexuality is taboo in most parts of Africa. It is illegal in 37 countries and often viewed as going against Christian and Muslim values, although many of the laws were introduced during British colonialism. -- © Guardian News & Media 2011