Kenyan clergy oppose chief justice nominees over gay issues

Kenya’s Parliament is divided over the nomination of two senior lawyers to head the country’s judicial system following the information that the duo are likely to help entrench gay rights in the New Constitution. The two lawyers, Dr Willy Mutunga and Nancy Baraza were nominated by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to the post of Chief Justice and deputy Chief Justice respectively. Ten sitting High court Judges were also interviewed.

A section of the clergy is also opposed to the nomination of Mutunga and Baraza and a lawyer in the capital Nairobi has filed a case in the High Court seeking to stop the nomination of the duo, claiming they are gay rights activists and as such, cannot be the custodians of Kenya’s constitution

The JSC presented their names to President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga who have approved the nomination forwarded them to Parliament for approval as per the constitution.

In Parliament former higher education minister and Eldoret North MP, William Ruto and some of his supporters have vowed to vote against Dr. Mutunga’s nomination saying that he wears an ear stud and that this represents a homosexual lifestyle.

“We cannot support a man who wears earrings to be the custodian of our laws. This country needs prayers,” Ruto, who wants to run for the presidency at the 2012 election, told a congregation in central Kenya.

In the referendum about the new constitution in 2010, Ruto campaigned to reject the new law saying, amongst other things that it would legalise same sex marriage. Ruto was supported by religious leaders but their campaign was soundly defeated. The new law did not contain a clause in support of gay marriage.

MPs who support the nominees say Mutunga and Baraza have the ability to reform and transform the poorly managed judicial system. Led by Mutito MP, Kiema Kilonzo, the MPs said Dr Mutunga’s dress code was irrelevant.

“The credentials of Dr. Mutunga and Ms Baraza have emerged board for the respective Reform oriented offices they will occupy. Their past records have exhibited the pro-reform agenda, hence Kenya’s endorsement to their new offices,” said Kilonzo.

“We are not nominating anybody for the position of Bishop,” said Olago Aluochi, the Kisumu Town West MP. Education Assistant education minister, Ayiech Olwenyi, said those opposed to Dr Mutunga’s nomination were conservatives.

Meanwhile, lawyer Harrison Kinyanjui, has moved to court to block the nominations. In his application, he says neither nominee is fit to head the Judiciary because they have explicitly supported homosexuality. The court will hear the matter filed under a certificate of urgency and “of national importance” on May 26.

An umbrella grouping of Christian denominations, the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) has also opposed the nomination. At a press conference, NCCK secretary general, Canon Peter Karanja said, “The Church will not allow morals and true biblical teachings to be compromised and corrupted through nomination of people who did not have outstanding family and society moral values.

“Dr Mutunga facilitated the incorporation of Kenya Gay and Lesbian Trust dated October 31, 2006, whose objective was to engage activism for the abolition of legal and extra –legal forms of discrimination by same gender loving people.”

Dr Mutunga, who holds a PhD in law, is a former chairman of the Law Society, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and once taught at the Kenya Law School. Ms Baraza who has practiced law for over 30 years is presently pursuing a PhD thesis on Homosexuality and Lesbianism and the law.

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