A proposed law in Ghana to toughen curbs on the LGBT community has triggered a rift between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the local Anglican church, which strongly supports the bill.
Gay sex is illegal in highly religious and conservative Ghana, but the proposed law will criminalise even LGBTQ advocacy while imposing longer jail terms for same-sex relations.
The so-called “Promotion of proper human sexual rights and Ghanaian family values” bill has been widely condemned by the international community and rights activists.
But the bill, currently being debated in parliament, is widely supported in Ghana, where President Nana Akufo-Addo has said gay marriage will never be allowed while he is in power.
Ghana’s Anglican bishops endorsed the bill in a statement earlier this month, saying LGBT beliefs were “unbiblical and ungodly” and also against Ghanaian tradition and culture.
“This is about morality today and of the future generation,” they said in a statement.
But that stance has put the bishops at odds with Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the leader of the global Anglican communion.
Welby said he was “gravely concerned” about the draft law and the Ghanaian church position on the bill.
“I will be speaking with the Archbishop of Ghana in the coming days to discuss the Anglican Church of Ghana’s response to the Bill,” he said in a communique on Tuesday.
He said he reminded the Anglican Church of Ghana of its commitments.
“We are a global family of churches, but the mission of the church is the same in every culture and country: to demonstrate, through its actions and words, God’s offer of unconditional love to every human being through Jesus Christ.”
Asked about the archbishop’s comments, Ghana’s bishops stood by their position.
“We have seen and read about the statement by the bishops in the UK but what we have stated and stood for still stands,” George Dawson-Amoah, director to Metropolitan Archbishop of Ghana, said.
“We see LGBTQI as unrighteousness in the sight of God and therefore we will do anything within our powers and mandate to ensure that the bill comes into fruition.”
LGBTQI means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex.
More than half the countries in sub-Saharan African have anti-homosexuality laws, with some punishing it with death penalty under sharia law, although there have been no known modern-day executions, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 signed a bill that increased the penalty for same-sex relations, but it was annulled by the courts six months later.
Chad and Burundi have all toughened their laws while Angola scrapped anti-gay laws from its penal code two years ago.
Botswana’s High Court, also in 2019, decriminalised same-sex relationships, a ruling that is currently being appealed by the government.
South Africa is the only African nation to allow gay marriage and has become a haven for African homosexuals who flee persecution at home.
Discrimination against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people is common in Ghana, but no one has ever been prosecuted under the colonial-era law.
‘Grave attack’ on rights
Activist groups say the new bill is a setback for human rights and have called on Akufo-Addo’s government to reject it.
“This is a grave attack to human rights, including the right to freedom of expression,” Article 19 international rights group said in a statement.
But nearly 90 percent of Ghanaians said they would approve of a decision by the government to criminalise same-sex relationships, according to research group Afrobarometer based on 2014 data.
Local churches are a powerful social force in Ghana. When activists tried to open a LGBT rights advocacy centre on the outskirts of Accra this year, the outcry was immediate.
The Catholic Church of Ghana publicly demanded the centre be shut down.
Following a huge media campaign, security forces closed it less than a month after it opened. Ghana’s gender minister called homosexual practises “non-negotiable.”
The proposed anti-LBGT law is currently in the initial parliament committee stage.
If approved, it would criminalise LGBT advocacy, require people to denounce “suspects”, advocates for controversial conversion therapy and imposes jail terms of up to five years for same-sex relations.
“I’m convinced that the law that will come out of this, we’ll protect the culture and values of our people and the Ghanaian identity,” parliament speaker Alban Bagbin said this week.
“It’s not only Africa but the whole world is looking for the outcome of this bill.”