In Namibia, same-sex couple fight for children's citizenship

by Reuters
Friday, 16 April 2021 08:00 GMT

Namibian citizen Phillip Luhl holds one of his twin daughters as he speaks to his Mexican husband Guillermo Delgado via Zoom meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 13, 2021. Picture taken April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Image Caption and Rights Information

By Kirthana Pillay and Sisipho Skweyiya

JOHANNESBURG, April 16 (Reuters) - When Namibian Phillip Lühl and his Mexican husband Guillermo Delgado decided to start a family, they did not realise how difficult it would be.

The same-sex couple are battling to obtain Namibian citizenship for their 2-year-old son, while their one-month-old twin daughters are stuck in South Africa because Namibian authorities want Lühl to show genetic proof he is the father before providing them with travel documents.

Lühl said that while the couple - married in South Africa - never experienced any discrimination in Namibia, their predicament began after their son was born in 2019 via a surrogate in South Africa.

"That was really the moment where things started to get complicated," Lühl told Reuters. "We applied for citizenship but were told he can only get citizenship if we can prove a genetic link to myself as a Namibian father."

"We rejected the notion that a genetic link or DNA test will prove my parentage," he said, adding there was no basis in Namibian law nor in the constitution that parentage is defined by genetic link.

"We rejected that because of the fact that one of us has to have a genetic link. It doesn't mean that one of us is a parent, we are both parents legally."

While the South African surrogacy process requires a genetic link, Luhl argues that demanding such proof discriminates against the couple because they are both parents.

The matter was challenged in a Namibian court in November 2019 and is still pending.

Forward to the birth of the twins in March, again to a surrogate in South Africa, Lühl said he asked Namibian authorities for travel documents for the children to go with him to Namibia - where the family would await the outcome of the citizenship case that would also affect the twins' status.

"To our surprise, that was rejected because they said these are not Namibian citizens," said Lühl.

They again asked the court in Namibia to review the decision. The ruling is due on April 19.

Home Affairs Minister Frans Kapofi could not be immediately be reached for comment. He however was quoted in The Namibian newspaper last month as saying authorities needed proof that the children "have Namibian blood in them".

The family is now separated, with Lühl and the twins in South Africa and Delgado in Namibia with the son.

Namibia's legal system does not recognise same-sex marriages. It has laws that criminalise sexual contact between males, but they are seldom, if ever enforced.

"What is not acknowledged is that the mere existence of the laws has impact ... it gives permission to discriminate," said Lühl. "These are fundamental human rights violations."

The wait was frustrating, he added.

"Initially I was quite optimistic ... but the longer this goes on, I am having doubts," Lühl said.

"The doubts are not so much that I think we don't have a strong legal case and we don't have a strong constitution that should protect our rights, but it has not been tested."

The children also have a right to Mexican citizenship but the embassy responsible is in Pretoria and the son cannot travel from Namibia as he has no documents. (Reporting by Kirthana Pillay in Johannesburg, additional reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa in Windhoek; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Giles Elgood)

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