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Opinions of Friday, 19 November 2021

Columnist: Kofi Ata

The anti-LGBTQ+ bill Brouhaha: Is it all much ado about nothing?

This article is a brief review of the anti-LGBTQ+ bill This article is a brief review of the anti-LGBTQ+ bill

Ghana has recently come under global attention for all the wrong reasons because of patently ill-conceived and poorly thought-through private members’ bill, which has come to be known as the Anti-LGBTQ+ Bill, the so-called, “Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” (PPHSRGFV).

This article is a brief review of the anti-LGBTQ+ bill, some alternative proposals, and a contribution to the ongoing discourse.

I have followed with keen interest the debate in the motherland on the draft PPHSRGFV bill, the passion, and the emotions that both sides display in their views for and against. I also find amusing the stand taken by the lead convenor or the spokesperson for the bill, Mr. Sam Nartey George, MP.

Though very articulate and impressive in interviews with the international media such as BBC and CNN, he does not make sense to me because he lacks full appreciation of the impact of the bill he is leading on. For example, he claims the bill will protect LGBTQ+ people from being attacked.

That is a lot of rubbish because Ghana’s 1992 Constitution and criminal codes already protect both citizens and non-citizens in Ghana from being attacked for what they are. It’s criminal in Ghana to attack anyone and for what s/he is.

Let me make it clear that I do appreciate the concerns and fears of some Ghanaians about issues of LGBTQ+ and the coercion by some western countries to force or even bully African countries to pass legislation to allow same sex marriages.

I disagree with them for wanting to dictate national policies for some African countries because the anti-LGBTQ+ bill in Ghana is a direct backlash of such coercion.

Irrespective of that, it is equally unacceptable for Ghana to pass such an obnoxious and unconstitutional bill into an act, that would fundamentally erode the human rights of some minority members of the Ghanaian community.

For those who argue that LGBTQ+ is a human right, I beg to differ with them. LGBTQ+ is a sexual preference and therefore not a human right. I say so in confidence because I studied Human Rights at the postgraduate level and also work in human rights. However, LGBTQ+ have human rights because they are human.
I appreciate that there are debates as to whether being LGBTQ+ is by nature (born as) or by nurture (through socialization). I have no views on this because I am not qualified to express an authoritative opinion. Because LGBTQ+ are as human as you and me, their human rights not to be discriminated against, subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, not to be persecuted, not subjected to extrajudicial treatment, etc should be respected.

Now let me turn to some aspects of the draft anti-LGBTQ+ bill. The first noticeable oddity about the bill is the title (“Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” ). The first question is, what are proper human sexual rights? The next is, is sex or human sex, a right? The third being, what are proper Ghanaian family values?

I guess the sponsors of the bill will say that proper human sexual rights are those between consenting adults of men and women or simply sex between adults of men and women. My view is, there is nothing like that in reality because sex is not a right.

Sex is private, between consenting adults and has been like that for centuries or as old as humanity itself. Therefore, there is nothing like “proper” human sexual rights. Who knows what happens within the sheets of consenting adults of men and women and why should anyone want to know?

Are there “proper” Ghanaian family values? My answer is emphatical, no. This is because values or family values are not static but organic and capable of changing with time.

For example, years back, a family was made up of a husband, wife/wives (in Africa), and children. Today, that is far from the truth because families throughout the world have undergone considerable changes. There are now many families led by lone parents of mothers and fathers, though mothers are disproportionately represented.

Lone parents do excellent jobs by raising their families so why should they be considered improper families because of the absence of one of the parents? The two-parent family is ideal but we do not live in an ideal world. Therefore, I am afraid there is nothing called “proper” Ghanaian family values or any other national family values.

Another interesting observation of the draft bill is the recommendation for the establishment of special support systems to enable LGBTQ+ access physiological or psychological support as in page 9. The question is, who will bear the cost of the special support systems?

Is that the state of LGBTQ+ individuals who access the support? I hope it’s not the state that will bear the cost of the establishment and operations of the special support systems because if that is the case, then the bill cannot be passed as private members’ bill. Private members bills must not

result in demand on the consolidated fund when passed into an act. Only the executive can introduce a bill that when passed into an act, the cost of implementation is drawn on the consolidated fund. In other words, this bill must be introduced by the executive and not by private members.

I understand religious bodies have promised to fund the cost of the bill when it receives presidential assent. The question is, under what arrangement will such arrangement be made?

Clauses 19 to 23 cover protection and support for victims. Such protection and support already exist and are guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution. Therefore, why new legislation to recycle what is already in existence such as, prohibition of extrajudicial treatment? It does not make sense because the supreme law of the land (the 1992 Constitution) already guarantees such protection to citizens and foreign residents and visitors to Ghana. There is a saying that, “when it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Now let me discuss one obnoxious aspect of the draft bill. As indicated above, Sex between consenting adults is a private matter. The state has no business to regulate sex, provided it’s between consenting adults and in private. The duty of the state is to protect children, the weak, and the vulnerable in society from sexual abuse and take appropriate action when sex is not consensual, it’s with a minor or with someone who is incapable of giving consent. That is the business of the state as far as sex is concerned but not to regulate it.

Fortunately, there are already laws on the statute books in Ghana including the criminal code to act against those who fall foul of the law for engaging in non-consensual sex, sex with minors, and those who are incapable of giving consent.

So, why pass another law to check such crimes? This beggars belief and is almost tantamount to parliament not having important and urgent work to do or not knowing what to prioritize. In fact, the real problem of improper sexual acts or sexual crimes in Ghana is heterosexual sex with minors (girls) by adult men.

That is what needs urgent attention and not consensual sex between adult men and or between adult women. Instead, we have a situation that the rich and powerful men abuse young girls, destroy their future and settle their criminal acts within families. The state is therefore failing her duty of care to protect young girls from sexual abuse in Ghana.

I am aware that the sponsors of the bill are using scare-mongering tactics on the definition of marriage to gain currency in order to impose the unconstitutional bill on the state. Marriage is not private but public and between families. It is a fundamental human right (the right to family life). For this reason, marriage is regulated by the state.

As of today, there is no law, rule, or regulation in Ghana that allows marriage between any other individuals except that of a man and a woman. There is again, no need to change the law and therefore this bill is a waste of space and precious legislative time.

It is also interesting that the bill is massively supported by traditional and religious leaders across Ghana. Some of these leaders are hypocrites because they are the very leaders who superintend over sexual abuse of girls by men.

They should remember that Ghana is a secular state and not governed by traditions and religious edicts but by a Constitution, though Ghana is majority Christian.

Therefore, they cannot dictate and impose their traditional and religious views on the country. They can do so on their flocks so far as it is within the Constitution.

The other problem with the bill is the opportunism of the opposition NDC. Their MPs are sponsoring the bill because they are deluded to believe that they stand to gain political capital from it. That, they will accuse the president and NPP of not passing the bill at the next election.

Sadly, what they have forgotten is that president Nana Akufo-Addo is not on the ballot paper in 2024, so, the NPP presidential candidate will simply have to say, vote for me and I will pass the bill. Again, the traditional and religious leaders will not ask their members to vote for NDC because president Nana Akufo-Addo’s NPP government did not pass the bill.

Is it not ironic that the Speaker of Parliament claims to speak for Ghana on this matter? Who gave him that authority? Only the executive speaks for Ghana. The Speaker speaks for parliament only and parliament is not Ghana. Parliament is the legislature and Ghana is the state. The two are not the same and equal.

Finally, the discourse is emotive, sensational, and sometimes irrational. The bill is based on scaremongering and attempting to divide Ghana into for and against. This is nothing but about sex, yet the sponsor will deny that. Sex cannot be regulated by emotions a scaremongering or by the state.

For the above reasons, the bill and the nose about it are all much ado about nothing. Simply put, the bill that has put Ghana on the global sport for the wrong reasons is nothing but obnoxious, unconstitutional, unnecessary, and should be consigned to the dustbin of legislative failures.

I end with a powerful quote by a gay marine. “I was honored for killing many but dishonored for loving one.” Humanity and Ghana need love and unity but not hate and division. LGBTQ+ are also children of God, created in the image of God. How can those who believe in creation hate LGBTQ+ baffles me.