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Opinions of Friday, 24 February 2017

Columnist: Appiah, Ben Ofosu

Mr. Speaker, passing anti gay legislation is not a priority.

By Ben Ofosu Appiah

The issue of homosexuals (gays and lesbians), same sex marriage are polarizing issues even in the advanced democratic societies, so it is no wonder in Africa it touches some very raw nerves. Some African countries have laws that ban the practice outright and criminalizes it. Others are flirting with the idea.

Earlier this week, a news item attributed to the Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Mike Ocquaye called for a complete amendment of the laws of this country to ban homosexuality and make it illegal. According to him, homosexuality is a despicable act that is against Ghana’s culture and must not be accepted.

The Speaker of Parliament was reported to have said this when a delegation from the Royal House Chapel led by its founder, Rev. Sam Korankye Ankrah paid a courtesy call on him. The learned professor was reported to have further said, “I trust that with your kind of insistence, the Parliament of Ghana…….will find its way clear in strengthening the laws to ban homosexuality as they exist……..” describing it as an abomination.

Mr. Speaker, I humbly submit that, the 7th Parliament of the 4th Republic has so many critical issues to tackle ranging from the economy, health, environment, fight against corruption, education, energy, unemployment, sports etc, etc that passing legislation to ban or legalize homosexuality and same sex marriage is not a priority. Leave it as it is.

You may disagree with homosexuality and same sex marriage, but these are not bread and butter issues. They don’t put food on the table. The developed world can afford to debate and fight over those issues, we have too many developmental challenges to spend valuable time, energy and resources on debating whether to ban or legalize gay marriage.

Parliament should not expend time and energy to debate any amendment to our laws banning homosexuality because it is not a priority at all. We want the 7th Parliament of the 4th Republic to be the most productive ever, so we want it to be focused and tackle the issues that bother on the quality of life for ordinary Ghanaians. What two consenting adults decide to do in the privacy of their bedrooms is not a matter of legislation.

Passing the Right to Information bill is a priority. It will help the citizenry to be involved in the governance process and will go a very long way to fight corruption in practical terms rather than paying lip service to it. Passing legislation to establish the Independent Public Prosecutor’s office is a priority.

It will help in the fight against corruption freeing resources that would have gone down the drain owing to corruption to be available to raise the standard of living of the average Ghanaian. Passing legislation to make it possible for Ghanaians in the diaspora to vote in their country’s elections is a priority. Rwanda and South Africa have made it possible, why not Ghana? Passing legislation that will make the country’s electoral process more robust and rigging resistant so the results truly reflect the will of the people is a priority.

Passing legislation to move the constitutional amendment process forward to address the weaknesses in the current constitution which there seems to be some consensus is a priority. A constitutional amendment that will free the President to appoint his ministers from anywhere and that MPs appointed as Ministers of state resign from Parliament to ensure a true separation of powers between the Executive branch and Parliament so parliament can play more effectively it’s oversight role of checking Executive powers.

A constitutional amendment that will enjoin the President to get two thirds Parliamentary approval for appointments to positions like the Chief Justice, Chair of the Electoral Commission, the Auditor General, Chair of CHRAJ, Chair of EOCO etc. There are many other things that are more important and need urgent attention than the passing of legislation to ban homosexuality.

How do we create jobs for the teeming army of unemployed youth of this country? This should occupy the minds of all legislators not amendment of laws to ban homosexuality. How do we get back monies we lost to massive corruption and plain thievery in the last administration? These are the real issues.

With the launch of the Amnesty International Report for 2016/17, the Secretary General of the Organization called on people around the world to not let the rhetoric of fear, blame and hate erode the vision for an open society based on equality. The Secretary General called on individuals to take a stand and protect our human rights. It is obvious, to the Amnesty International, homosexuality is a human rights issue. It is not a deviant form of social behavior.

When I listened to radio program after radio program discuss the issue of homosexuality in Ghana, I was shocked at what I heard. Many were willing to use unprintable words to describe homosexual calling them beasts, animals, that they don’t deserve to live etc. For many of these people who were describing members of the LGBT community in such terms, they may not have even met one before. Homosexuals, gays and lesbians are not beasts, they are not animals, they are human beings just like you and I who happen to have different sexual orientations. Many of them are very decent, nice people. Just get to know some of them and you will agree.

Former US Vice President Dick Cheney is a conservative Republican politician who happened to have strong views on Gays and Lesbians and was totally opposed to same sex marriage until his own daughter came out to admit she was a Lesbian. That changed his view of Gays and Lesbians.

Perceptions, views, and opinions change over time. My own views about homosexuals have evolved over time. I used to be one of those who condemned them in the past in very strong terms. I still disagree with this practice but I am now more tolerant. I have had the chance of working with some members of the LGBT community and some became good friends.

I say again they are nice and decent people. I urge the same tolerance in the Ghanaian society for all. When we talk of building an all inclusive society, we mean a society where all people regardless of their religion, faith, ethnic identity, social background, sexual orientation can live in peace and harmony.

Just as it is not right to discriminate against someone based on his tribe or his religion, it is equally not right to discriminate against someone because of his or her sexual orientation. It is bigotry to use religion to justify discrimination and intolerance. Remember, the Dutch Reformed Church which introduced Apartheid to South Africa used religion to justify it, and today, we have people killing in the name of religion.

The author is a senior political, economic and social analyst who has written extensively about public policy issues in Ghana and Africa in general. He welcomes your comments: Tel. # +233 26 765 5383.