June 11 (UPI) -- Botswana's high court overturned a law criminalizing homosexuality Tuesday that was on the books for decades since the territory was under British rule.
The Gaborone court issued its unanimous decision that said Botswana's legal code was discriminatory and violated the constitution. Under the law, persons face as many as seven years in jail for consensual same-sex relations.
"Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized," judge Michael Leburu said in the Botswana capital. "Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement. It is an important attribute of one's personality."
"The state cannot be sheriff in people's bedrooms."
Botswana has been one of several African nations that barred gay lifestyles -- including Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. In May, Kenya upheld colonial-era laws banning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activity.
"It has taken a long time for our community to be where it is," Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, CEO of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, said. "This incredibly life-changing decision, although it does not right all the wrongs done to individual members of the LGBT community, it is a step to restoring our dignity as human beings."
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi supported the LGBT population last fall after a transgender woman was severely attacked.
Botswana, a landlocked nation in southern Africa with a population of about 2.2 million, is one of the world's most sparsely populated nations and fastest-growing economies.