VARIOUS RELIGIOUS LEADERS have thrown their weight behind a draft bill targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) people in Ghana and anyone supportive of them.
Backers includes the Anglican Church in Ghana’s House of Bishops . Yet the bill violates not only human rights but also what many would see as basic Christian principles.
Gay sex is already banned, under a colonial-era law. But the ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values 2021’ bill seeks harsher sentences, of up to five years, for a wide range of people with a “sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”. They may also be subjected to damaging, medically-discredited ‘conversion therapies’. Family members and friends would be required to betray them to the authorities, while people advocating for the rights of LGBT+ people may face up to ten years’ imprisonment.
United Nations human rights experts have condemned the bill. Claims that it protects the nation, preserves traditional and faith-based values lack credibility. Instead, it appears to be an attempt to exploit religion, and tap into the tendency to scapegoat vulnerable minorities, in the quest for power, even if this ultimately undermines the rights of all in Ghana. Sadly in other parts of the world too, faith is too often misused as a cover for excessive wealth-seeking, hatred or injustice.
Trying to justify state violence
People who are LGBT or even intersex are already facing human rights abuses and this will become far worse if the bill is passed. As the UN experts’ letter pointed out, the bill seems to “establish a system of State-sponsored discrimination and violence of great magnitude.” They warned of “deeply stigmatising language”, promotion of unnecessary medical interventions on intersex children, increasing ill health and poverty and undermining freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association.
The authors took the view that promoting ‘conversion therapy’, if the bill passed, “would constitute legislatively sponsored ill treatment and torture.” The suffering which would be inflicted by this measure, and “advocacy of hatred”, was outlined.
The Anglican bishops, in an attempt to justify the bill, stated, “We see LGBTQI+ as unrighteousness in the sight of God and therefore will do anything within our powers and mandate to ensure that the bill comes into fruition.” They claimed that homosexual practice is condemned by both the Old and New Testaments. The case for this is quite flimsy and numerous biblical scholars and other Christians disagree, as these leaders should be well aware (and in private some may be more accepting). Some denominations and other Anglican provinces now celebrate marriages of same-gender couples and ordain openly LGBT+ ministers, believing this is in line with what God is calling them to do.
But, even if same-sex love and gender diversity were sinful, criminal sanctions need not follow. For instance, senior clergy in Ghana are not pushing for men to be jailed for heterosexual adultery, which also tends to undermine families more than sex between single persons of any gender. International Anglican conferences have repeatedly endorsed human rights and condemned criminalisation, stating that the “victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give – pastoral care and friendship.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” says Jesus in the Semon on the Mount. He emphasises the importance of love and warns, “‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get… In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Acting on this would land Ghanaians in prison, if top clergy have their way, though Jesus also promises, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5.7, 10; 7.1-2, 12). Religious freedom, for those whose faith leads them to defend justice and compassion, is also at stake. In the Gospels he himself is put to death at the hands of political and religious leaders, though this does not succeed in silencing him permanently.
The bishops also claimed that “the Ghanaian tradition and culture do not permit such act[s].” But cultural heritage is rather more varied – even if, in colonial times, homophobia and transphobia were promoted across the world, as if they were marks of civilisation – and continually developing. These days, US-based far-right organisations promote anti-LGBT+ prejudice globally. If the bill passes, human rights and constitutional values in Ghana will be seriously undermined: if basic freedoms can be so easily ignored on this issue, why not on others, if this suits the powerful or power-hungry?
Solidarity with LGBT+ people and human rights defenders in Ghana is important, especially at a time when rights violations across the world are all too common. Senior church leaders elsewhere have tended to be slow off the mark in speaking out publicly but, if they stay silent too long, their own reputations may be affected, as well as trust in them. The bill is cruel not only in the punishments it imposes but also the potential to tear families and communities apart and stir up hatred and scorn, doing spiritual as well as physical and psychological damage. It deserves to be firmly opposed.
© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016) and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion. She wrote on ‘Health or Wealth?’ in Feast or Famine? (DLT, 2017). Her latest articles can be found here. Archived articles (pre-2020) are here.