Madonna has been an outspoken advocate for gay rights throughout her nearly three-decade career, and more recently devoted herself to charity work in Malawi, the African nation that recently pardoned a gay couple previously sentenced to 14 years in prison for attempting to marry. So it was only a matter of time before she publicly commented on Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga’s case: the couple was arrested in late December and convicted last month of unnatural acts and gross indecency. After the United Nations, Elton John and Madonna — who gathered 30,000 signatures on her Raising Malawi website — fought the sentence, Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika pardoned Monjeza and Chimbalanga.
“I have always believed love conquers all — yesterday I got to see it in action,” Madonna wrote on Raising Malawi’s site. “We celebrate this astounding turn of events with Steven, Tiwonge, and the countless Malawians fighting for their release. It is a historic day for Malawi.” Despite the pardon, President Bingu Wa Mutharika said he would not repeal Malawi’s strict laws regarding homosexuality, and after their release Monjeza and Chimbalanga have reportedly gone into hiding to avoid further prosecution.
Since 2006, Madonna has focused her humanitarian efforts on Malawi, establishing the orphan care initiative Raising Malawi to bring relief to its nearly 2 million orphans. In 2008, Madonna helped found an all-girls boarding school, and to this day the Queen of Pop matches every dollar Raising Malawi raises. Madonna’s two adopted children, David Banda and Mercy James, were once Malawi orphans, and her 2008 documentary I Am Because We Are takes a deep look at the plight facing the scores of orphans whose parents were lost when the country battled the HIV and AIDS epidemics.