The majority of Christian churches in Ghana are backing a proposed law that, if passed, could send lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to prison for five years and those who advocate for their rights for 10.
The controversial Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill was drafted in part by Edem Senanu, chair of Advocates for Christ-Ghana. He told CT he believes the law is necessary because of the “escalating promotion of the LGBTQIA+ community in Ghana.”
A South Africa-based group that advocates for LGBT rights attempted to organize a conference in Ghana in July 2020 and an LGBT resource center opened in Accra, the capital, in January 2021. Though the conference was canceled and the resource center closed, they raised concern among conservative Christians in the West African country.
“It was an escalation,” Senanu said. “It seemed strange and also an affront that anyone could openly set up an office to promote the LGBTQIA+ community, using their clout and influence and financial resources to recruit young people to join their ranks.”
Ghana law currently prohibits “unnatural carnal knowledge,” a statute carried over from British law when Ghana achieved independence in 1957. The crime carries a three-year sentence but is rarely enforced.
The bill increasing the penalties for same-sex relations was presented to parliament in June by eight lawmakers, led by Samuel George, with the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party currently in the opposition. It is due to be debated after parliament resumes on October 26.
The Christian Council of Ghana, which includes Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians, and the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC), an umbrella group of 200 churches and ministries, issued a joint statement backing the draft law. They urged parliament to pass the bill and President Nana Akufo-Addo to sign it, saying homosexuality is “unacceptable behaviour that our God frowns upon” and “alien to the Ghanaian culture and family value system.”
The two organizations have also argued the law will “help safeguard our cherished family system in Ghana.”
Rights groups like Rightify Ghana, on the other hand, say the bill is a populist ploy to distract Christians and other voters from the real problems that politicians haven’t been able to fix, including government corruption, unemployment, and poor infrastructure.
“There is a belief that when you hate LGBTQ people, you win votes,” Danny Bediako, executive director of Rightify, told CT.
Ghana is one of 32 African nations where homosexuality is criminalized. It is a deeply conservative country, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender roles. About 71 percent identify as Christians. Data gathered in 2016 and 2018 by the pan-African research body Afrobarometer showed that only 7 percent of Ghanaians would like to have an LGBT neighor or not care if their neighbor was gay.
LGBT people in Ghana face blackmail, beatings, ostracism, school suspension, and loss of employment, according to activists. They believe things will likely get harder if the law passes. One provision will disband any organization that serves the LGBT community or defends their basic civil rights.
Rightify Ghana, which trains paralegals and cares for people with HIV in addition to advocating for LGBT rights, would be forced to close if the law passed in its current form, according to Bediako.
According to some activists, it is difficult just to disagree with the predominant anti-LGBT view in the country.
“Anyone who experiences a different point of view from the anti-gay perspective is at risk in Ghana,” said Davis Mac-Iyalla, director of the Accra-based Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa, an organization that works to build bridges between different faith groups and to promote acceptance of LGBT people.
Mac-Iyalla said the church support for the law is especially frustrating, because many LGBT people in Ghana are themselves committed, faithful Christians.
“It's worrying to see mainstream churches and religious institutions avoiding the main needs and issues affecting Ghanaians but instead talking about human sexuality and promoting hate,” he said. “Many LGBT people live with constant spiritual violence and abuse from their religious denominations or institutions.”
The proposed law has faced sharp opposition from human rights advocates and international Black celebrities, such as actor Idris Elba and model Naomi Campbell. Critics inside and outside Ghana have called on Ghana politicians to reject the law with the social media hashtag #KillTheBill.
Some Ghana leaders are worried the law would alienate international tourists, businesses, and Western nations supporting economic development in Ghana.
Some of the most controversial clauses promote conversion therapy, offering “flexible sentencing” for any convicted person who “openly recants” and requests “approved medical help.” According to the bill, this kind of therapy “reflects the policy to provide support and assistance to persons who, for psychological or biological reasons may become easy prey to lifestyle LGBTTQQIAAP+ persons.”
Another contentious clause in the bill could also impact heterosexual Christians in Ghana. The law includes a “duty to report,” making it a criminal offense not to tell authorities about LGBT people.
Akosua Adomako Ampofo, a professor at the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies, says this “potentially criminalizes all Ghanaians.”
“If I fail to report my family member, colleague, or student for any of the offences, I too become a criminal,” Ampofo wrote.
As a Christian commanded by Jesus to love her neighbor, Ampofo argued she couldn’t support such a law.
“When I read the Bill, I cannot find grace or compassion,” she said. “What I find is judgment, and condemnation.”
Paul Frimpong-Manso, president of the GPCC, has acknowledged the bill is not perfect but urged support for the law regardless.
“We are not oblivious of the fact that there is still room for improvement on this bill,” he said in an official statement. “We would continue to pray to the Lord Almighty for strength, wisdom, courage, boldness and sense of conviction for all involved in this process to carry through this divine assignment for God, country and generations yet unborn.”
A majority of the members of parliament appear to support the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, observers say. Some parts of the bill could be amended during debate, though, and there may be some last-minute opposition to the proposed law.
Senanu said he expects it to pass.
“We have the majority,” he said. “The churches have a very strong view of this.”