By Kirk Petersen
The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Ghana has walked back its support of proposed legislation that would provide prison terms merely for advocating on behalf of LGBT rights.
Last October, the bishops said they “will do anything within our powers and mandate to ensure that the bill comes into fruition.” But the Church Times reports that in a new January 28 statement, the bishops have declared that parts of the legislation are “severe and must be reviewed.”
The statement, signed by Archbishop of Ghana Cyril Kobina Ben-Smith, says “LGBTQI+ activities are frowned upon by the Ghanaian ethnicity and therefore, traditions, values, cultural and social frameworks must not also only be regarded but, respected and appreciated.”
However, the bishops said the bill must not be used as a pretext for violence: “Acts of harassment, intimidation, and hostilities against LGBTQ+ people should be condemned.”
The new statement comes after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby strongly criticized the proposed legislation in October, and met online with the Ghanaian bishops in November.
It is unclear whether the bill would result in any actual prison sentences, as the existing laws against homosexual activity in Ghana are “rarely, if ever, enforced,” CNN reported when the legislation was proposed. But as in many parts of Africa, LGBT persons are subject to widespread persecution and harassment in Ghana, and the bill could be seen as a permission slip to extend the hostility to straight supporters.
“The new law would also make the distribution of material deemed pro-LGBTQ by news organization or websites illegal. It calls on Ghanaians to turn over those they suspect of being from the LGBTQ community,” CNN reported. Existing law provides for up to three years in prison for homosexual acts, but the proposed law is even harsher toward advocates of the LGBT community, calling for up to a decade in prison.
Last fall, the Telegraph of London cited unnamed “critics” asserting that the bill “could be the most draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation on earth.”
Ghana is the dominant part of the Anglican Province of West Africa, which includes 11 dioceses in Ghana and six dioceses scattered across seven other countries: Cameroon, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. The Ghanaian dioceses are organized as the Internal Province of Ghana, which is seeking status as a full-fledged province of the Anglican Communion. Wikipedia, without citing a source, says “Today, there are over one million Anglicans out of an estimated population of 35 million in the countries that form the province.” An undated web page of the World Council of Churches lists a membership of 300,000, also not citing a source.