Ghana’s Anglican Church backs away from harsh anti-LGBTQ bill

The Anglican Church in Ghana is backing away from reports that it supports a bill that would impose harsh new penalties for same-sex intimacy and would make advocacy of the human rights of LGBTQ people a crime.

Dr. Cyril Kobina Ben-Smith, archbishop of the Church of Ghana. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

In a statement issued last week, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Ghana declared that “sections of the bill are severe and must be reviewed.”

The document, signed by the Ghanaian Archbishop, Dr.  Cyril Kobina Ben-Smith, added:

“Ghanaian citizens must not use the bill as an avenue to assault persons with homosexual orientation but show love to them as the Church of Jesus Christ is called to demonstrate the love of God by protecting all vulnerable people and groups. Acts of harassment, intimidation, and hostilities against LGBTQ+ people should be condemned.”

But the bishops did not condemn the homophobia that is widely prevalent in Ghana. Instead, they stated, “though human dignity is always dominant, 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.”

Without explaining what they meant, the bishops proposed that “Human Sexual Rights” should be considered in the context of “Ghanaian family values”: “Generally, we, as a Church in Ghana, seek to strengthen Ghanaian family life by promoting Human Sexual Rights that is supported and accepted by Ghanaian family values.”

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

In November, the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, to which the Church of Ghana belongs, spoke out against the bill and against the Ghana church’s reported support for it. He later apologized for making that statement without consulting with bishops in Ghana. He then added that, in fact, the Church of Ghana did not support the bill, a declaration that was largely validated by the bishops’ statement of last week.

For months, the bill, which has been declared “the worst anti-LGBTQ bill ever”, has been awaiting action by Ghana’s parliament. Its official name is the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill.

Ghanaian law already provides for up to three years in prison for same-sex intimacy, but anti-gay activists want to extend the country’s prohibition to include fines and prison time for LGBTQ rights advocacy, including distribution of any material considered pro-LGBTQ in print or online; same-sex weddings; public displays of same-sex affection; cross dressing; oral sex and anal sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual; and the use of sex toys.

The bill would provide for three to five years in prison for any LGBTQ person or supporter of LGBTQ rights (in the words of the bill, anyone who “holds out as” LGBTQ, as non-binary, or as an LGBTQ ally).

The bill would require citizens to report LGBTQ rights advocacy and homosexual activity to police or other authorities. The bill would  also encourage the harmful and ineffective practice known as “conversion therapy” , which claims to change people’s sexual orientation. It would put the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs in charge of regulating conversion therapy service providers.

For more on the bill’s provisions, read the article “The worst anti-LGBTQ bill ever”.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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