A gay Malawi couple was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor in prison for committing “unnatural acts and gross indecency.”

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been jailed since they attempted to hold an engagement ceremony in December. In his ruling, the presiding judge said he wanted to “protect” the public in the small east African nation of nearly 15 million from what he believed to be “horrendous” behavior.

“I do not believe Malawi is ready at this point in time to see its sons getting married to other sons, or cohabitating, or conducting engagement ceremonies,” the magistrate said, according to The New York Times. “Malawi is not ready to smile at her daughters marrying each other. Let posterity judge this judgment.”

Since the ruling was announced human rights groups and concerned celebrities from around the world have condemned the Malawi government’s action. Several countries have even expressed that they may reduce aid to the country as a result.

“We’re calling strongly for the government to revisit this issue as a matter of dignity and human rights.” Michel Sidibé, executive director of Unaids, the United Nations AIDS agency told the Times. “I will use the opportunity to raise the issue with the president.”

International pop star Madonna, who has an adopted daughter from the African nation, released a statement on her website ripping the decision.

“I am shocked and saddened by the decision made by the Malawian court, which sent two innocent men to prison,” she wrote. “As a matter of principle, I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race, color, religion, or sexual orientation. Today, Malawi took a giant step backward. The world is filled with pain and suffering; therefore, we must support our basic human right to love and be loved.”

Despite the furor, the Malawi government says this is an issue of national values and they will not be swayed by outside forces.

“You must understand the culture and traditions of Malawi, and what these two did is taboo,” said Leckford Thotho, minister of information and civic affairs in Malawi. According to the Associated Press, homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 African countries, including Malawi.