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Ghana’s parliament passes anti-LGBTQ bill

A same-sex couple sits together during a discussion about LGBTQ rights in Accra, Ghana [File: Francis Kokoroko/Reuters]

Ghana’s parliament has voted to pass a controversial bill to severely restrict LGBTQ rights, in a move that has been condemned by rights activists.

A coalition of religious and traditional leaders sponsored the legislation that is favoured by most lawmakers and that passed in parliament on Wednesday.

The bill would punish those who take part in LGBTQ sexual acts, as well as those who promote the rights of gay, lesbian or other non-conventional sexual or gender identities with time in prison.

The bill, one of the harshest of its kind in Africa, still has to be validated by the president before entering into law, which observers believe is unlikely before a general election in December.

Activist groups have called the “Human Sexual Rights and Family Values” bill a setback for human rights and urged President Nana Akufo-Addo’s government to reject it.

But the legislation is widely supported in Ghana, where Akufo-Addo has said gay marriage will never be allowed while he is in power.

Commonly referred to as the anti-gay bill, it received sponsorship from a coalition comprising Christian, Muslim, and Ghanaian traditional leaders, finding substantial backing among members of Parliament.

Gay sex is already illegal in the religious West African nation, but while discrimination against LGBTQ people is common no one has ever been prosecuted under the colonial-era law.

Under the provisions of the bill, those who take part in LGBTQ sexual acts could face imprisonment ranging from six months to three years.

The bill also imposes a prison sentence of three to five years for the “wilful promotion, sponsorship, or support of LGBTQ+ activities”.

‘Violates human rights’

A human rights coalition known as the Big 18, an umbrella group of lawyers and activists in Ghana, has condemned the bill.

“You cannot criminalise a person’s identity and that’s what the bill is doing and it’s absolutely wrong,” said Takyiwaa Manuh, a member of the coalition.

“We want to impress on the president not to assent to the bill, it totally violates the human rights of the LGBT community,” Manuh told the AFP news agency.

Opposition lawmaker Sam George, the main sponsor of the bill, called on Akufo-Addo to assent to it.

“There is nothing that deals with LGBTQ better than this bill that has been passed by parliament. We expect the president to walk his talk and be a man of his words,” George said.

Members of Ghana’s LGBTQ community are worried about the implications of the bill.

Founder and director of the organisation LGBT+ Rights Ghana Alex Donkor said, “The passing of this bill will further marginalise and endanger LGBTQ individuals in Ghana.”

“It not only legalises discrimination but also fosters an environment of fear and persecution,” he said.

“With harsh penalties for both LGBTQ individuals and activists, this bill threatens the safety and wellbeing of an already vulnerable community.”

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