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Marriage between two women — a longstanding Kenyan tradition

Marriage between two women is an established tradition in several Kenyan cultures. New research examines how Kenyan law is applied to woman-to-woman marriages and how Kenyan courts have upheld them.


From the African Human Rights Media Network


Esther Simatei (left) and Nancy Chepkorir are married to each other. (Photo courtesy of KumbaKumba)

Journalist Denis Nzioka briefly described the practice in Equal Eyes from UNAIDS. The more extensive information below about woman-to-woman marriages comes from the archive materials of the KumbuKumbu project, the Gay & Lesbian Archives of Kenya, which is curated by Nzioka.

 

Susan Boke (left) is ‘married’ to Siprina Nyamani (right). Their home is in Nyangoge village, Kuria Sub-county. (Photo courtesy of KumbaKumba)

Woman-to-woman marriage is one of the many forms of cultural practice recognised by some communities in Africa. Although this form of marriage is recognised by some communities in several African countries, there’s little legal backing or protection to it.

Same-sex arranged marriage is culturally accepted so women who are unable to have children, or those who have not yet had a son, can fulfill societal expectations. In Migori, for example, women are married under “nyumba mboke”, a practice that allows for woman-to-woman unions.

This institution has existed since the 18th century.

In summarizing his research, Ambrose Abongo wrote:

“Woman to woman customary marriages arise where a woman is barren and she then marries another woman for the sole purpose of having children and those children become the children of the barren woman who is the husband in the relation. This marriage can take place whether the husband of the barren woman is alive or dead.

If the husband is alive the other woman is allowed to have sexual relations with the husband for the purpose of having children. Any children out of this relationship will be regarded as the children of the barren woman.

Where the husband is dead she must select a man from the husband’s family or leave the decision to the woman to select whom she wants to have children with. This is common among Kisii, Taita and Kuria tribes.”

For more information, read Abongo’s full report, “Validity of woman-to-woman marriages in Kenya.” (PDF)

Juliana and Esther Soi married in the early 1990s. (Photo courtesy of KumbaKumba)

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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