Read Time: 4 minutes
Homosexuals, lesbians and all kinds of people in the LGTBQ community in Ghana are to suffer stiff penalties including imprisonment if a proposed bill is passed by Parliament. The Bill, which is a Private Members Bill is sponsored by a group of anti-gay MPs led by Mr. Sam George. The full title of the Bill is Promotion of Proper Human Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021.
There is no doubt that this will be a popular law, if it passes. In Ghana, the country’s anti-gay mood is getting even uglier and it would not have escaped the sponsoring MPs that it could be the easiest route to courting popularity in the country. It is definitely easier than crusading against corruption or many of the real difficulties and challenges Ghanaians face in their daily lives and for which they were elected to Parliament.
To defend the rights of homosexuals in Ghana is to walk into the lion’s den without any protection. I was shocked by the strength of anti-gay feeling at a recent media seminar because, elsewhere, journalists are usually open-minded. What worried me was that people were so resolute in their condemnation not only of “homosexual acts”, but of gays as human beings. Even the commonsensical separation of homosexual acts from homosexuals as citizens would not be countenanced. Meanwhile, no one has suggested that even armed robbers should not be recognised as humans with rights.
So, it may be futile to defend the human rights of the LGBTQ community on the grounds that as human beings they have human rights. As the title of the proposed Bill implies, there are must be a category of human rights that are not “proper”. I have never come across any such category of rights. Unless the Parliament of Ghana wants to come up with an alternative notion of human rights, the common and accepted understanding is that human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Above all, human rights are indivisible.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises, among others, the following rights: right to equality, freedom from discrimination, right to life, liberty, and personal security, freedom from torture and degrading treatment, right to recognition as a person before the Law, freedom from interference with privacy, family, home and correspondence. These are among the rights that the draft Bill proposes to take away from some citizens because of their sexual orientation.
The other half of the title of the draft Bill is even more interesting. It purports to promote Ghanaian “family values”, which is a good thing. To us Ghanaians, family is very important; so important that it is not limited to what is described as the “nuclear” or immediate family. To all Ghanaian cultures, the essence of family is elastic and inclusive. One cardinal principle in Ghanaian family codes is that no-one is excluded not even for bad behaviour. The Ghanaian family is a “broad church” that accepts all people who come into its ambit, including those who may not even be related by blood. The very idea of excluding some people we don’t like on the grounds of “Ghanaian family values” is antithetical and ludicrous.
But since nothing stops politicians looking for popularity and distraction from the main problems of the country, let us grant them the limit they place on family values as only a matter of sexual behaviour and get on with the rest of our lives. So, if they want to defend and protect good moral values within families, why is the Bill not criminalising acts like adultery and fornication which actually break up families and cause untold misery to hundreds of thousands of people around the country? The draft Bill has provisions for punishing people who engage in same sex intercourse. So, ask yourself, which one does more harm to society: same sex intercourse or having sex with someone who is another person’s married partner? One often hears it argued that our culture frowns on homosexuality; does our culture endorse adultery?
In Ghana, neither adultery nor homosexuality is a crime; in many people’s eyes and according to their faith, these are sins of sexual immorality. A sin is not in the sphere of the state; that is between each one and his or her conscience. If the state must make sexual sins into crimes, why not go the whole hog and make the whole boatload of sexual sins into crimes? I suggest that the religious leaders cheering the promoters of the draft Bill must boldly ask the MPs to include adultery, fornication, onanism, oral sex, etc. For the Christian leaders, may I remind them of what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God.“
From either cultural or religious viewpoint, it would make more sense to criminalise adultery because it directly affects not only family values but families themselves. It is hypocritical to single out homosexuality as the culprit if the aim of the proposed Bill is to protect family values. If we are not able to do this, the only conclusion is that the Bill has nothing to do with family values but everything to do with persecuting gays and courting cheap political popularity for the promoters of the Bill and their unseen backers and manifestation of their intolerance.
Adding adultery will show that the promoters of the Bill and its backers really care about family values. They can further show their resolve by employing thousands of policemen and women to constitute a Moral Police Force that will be empowered to knock on people’s doors to inspect and document citizens’ sexual practices. Why not? That must be the logical outcome of this backward and absurd proposed law.
Now, let us address a word to every Ghanaian, including the backers of this proposal, who are raining insults on those who disagree with them on this issue. We must be fearful every time lawmakers tinker with someone else’s human rights. We may think this has nothing to do with me; or even that this is against my enemy. Criminalising people because we don’t like them amounts to taking away their human rights. You don’t need to agree with people before you defend their rights. Just remember the many places where people of our type – Christians, Muslims, Black, mixed race, women, left-handed, albinos or any kind of “other”, are persecuted for who they are. Remember. Today it may be gays. Tomorrow it could be or you. Remember.
Slightly edited from an earlier version published in the Mirror