TO: Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs
FROM: Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa
SUBJECT: Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021
DATE: 27 September 2021
Honourable Members of Parliament:
As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah stated on the first Independence Day, ‘We have a duty to prove to the world that Africans can conduct their own affairs with efficiency and tolerance and through the exercise of democracy. We must set an example to all Africa.’ We the undersigned humbly submit that the so-called ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021’ undermines this vision of our nation. This Bill reflects neither Ghana’s civic imperatives of democracy, cultural autonomy, and political tolerance (as they are enshrined in our Constitution);[i] nor the religious imperatives of compassion, tradition, and diversity that flow from the spiritual wisdom of Christianity, Islam, and African culture.
Not Love, but Government Overreach
The law in Ghana already expresses the current majority view of Ghanaians: that the sexual expression of affection between males should be punishable as a misdemeanour.[ii]
The Bill under consideration goes much further. It criminalises speech, conscience, pastoral care and familial nurture. With Clause 6 of this Bill, anyone who discusses their gay sexuality, will be a felon.[iii] With Clauses 3 and 5 of this Bill, any clergy member who counsels a lesbian; any family member who comforts a bisexual loved one – and fails to report that person to the police, will also be a felon.[iv]
Interfering in this way with the prerogatives of personal conscience, and with the prerogatives of pastors and family members, is an outrageous overreach of government power.
True religion calls us to love, mercy, and compassion. As St. Paul teaches us, ‘Love is patient, love is kind. … It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. … Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes.’[v] As the Holy Qur’an teaches us, Allah is first and foremost ‘Compassionate’ and ‘Merciful.’[vi]
This Bill tramples patience and kindness. It rejoices in anger and bile. It forecloses the complex process of discernment about whether one is – or can even truly be – ‘gay.’ Rather than protect the vulnerable, this Bill criminalises the questioning.[vii] It codifies into law the spirit of anti-LGBTQ+ vigilantism and mob violence that stalks many parts of our land.[viii] It is a Bill without compassion or mercy.
We Ghanaians Must Drink from Our Own Wells
This Bill imposes a narrowly sectarian vision of human intimacy on Ghana’s diverse religions, cultures, families, and individual citizens. Its sponsors argue that ‘the majority of Ghanaians’ – in all their ‘traditions, cultures, and religions’ and ‘ethnicities’ – find ‘LGBTTQQIAPP+ groups and their activities’ unacceptable.[ix] In response, the Bill seeks to define ‘proper human sexuality’ and Ghanaian ‘family values’ in pain-staking detail.[x]
But their argument is misleading. Despite the pontification of certain religionists, there are real differences of opinion about sexual ethics among Christians, among Muslims, and among traditional African peoples. Not simply the well-known arguments over monogamy and polygamy, but deeper differences over gender and sexuality itself.
For example, the renowned Ghanaian theologian Mercy Oduyoye believes that homosexual couples should not be considered ‘deviants,’ but rather more like one of the ‘irregular unions’ which are widely accepted in Asante family life.[xi] Many Christians who support LGBT people base their arguments on Biblical texts: for example, they claim that God created every human person, regardless of sexual orientation, in God’s image;[xii] they note how the words of Ruth and Naomi are often used as a reading in Christian marriage ceremonies;[xiii] and they question Bible translators who find modern concepts such as ‘homosexuality’ in ancient writings of people like St. Paul. It is well known that the Anglican Communion and other Protestant denominations are bitterly split over the blessing of same-sex unions, and over the ordination of openly LGBT people into the clergy, with the Reverend Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (Church of Uganda) calling upon the Church to ‘defend all God’s children’, including sexual minorities.[xiv] Pope Francis has famously said of gay people, ‘Who am I to judge?’ It is clear that over the ages, and across different cultures, both Christian theologians and everyday Christians have practiced gender, family, and intimacy in different ways.[xv]
Islamic scholars also differ among themselves regarding proper family structure and sexual ethics. Take for example the issue of gender.[xvi] Many Muslim scholars insist on the gender binary of male vs. female. But the famous 13th century jurist al Quturbi argued that gender was not simply male or female: ‘And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses,’[xvii] including non-binary and intersexed people. So too, many celebrated Muslim scholars have acknowledged that men who have an ‘innate’ tendency toward effeminate behaviour and dress should not be criticized or punished for the way they were born.[xviii] These controversies continue to this day: in 1988 the Mufti of the Republic of Egypt, and the President of the Fatwa Council at al-Azhar, issued fatwas in favour of certain sex-change surgeries, while the mufti of Egypt’s High Council for Islamic Affairs issued a fatwa against them. [xix] Controversies over the acceptability of same-sex unions also exist among Muslims.[xx] Over the ages and across different cultures, Muslims too have practiced gender, family, and intimacy in different ways. It would be highly inappropriate for Parliament to impose a narrow religious opinion upon these ongoing religious debates.
What is more, the reality of gender and sexuality in traditional Ghanaian cultures is far from the narrow vision that this Bill tries to project. For example, scholars from the early 20th century reported that among the Ashanti, men were not stigmatized for dressing as women or for being intimate with each other.[xxi] Among the Fante, the belief was held that people of either sex who were born with ‘heavy’ souls would desire women, while those born with ‘light’ souls would desire men. Among certain Nzima, same-gender attraction was not considered remarkable, and ‘friendship-marriages’ included dowries and festival banquets.[xxii] And as Rose Mary Amenga-Etego of the University of Ghana has written, the Nankani to this day practice woman-to-woman marriage: to raise children and immortalize families, to bind different families together, and to mark the bride’s coming of age.[xxiii]
Honourable Members of Parliament, how can you countenance a Bill that would criminalise the very Ghanaian research and scholarship that we cite in this memorandum? Would you sentence prominent scholars of Ghanaian culture such as Prof. Amenga-Etego and Prof. Oduyoye to prison terms of ‘not less than five years and not more than ten years,’ because they publish top-quality, peer-reviewed, and internationally recognised scholarly work?[xxiv]
As we know, it is incumbent upon the Government to ‘foster pride in Ghanaian culture.’[xxv] The specific customs described here doubtless have their plusses and minuses like all religious and cultural traditions, including present day forms of heterosexual marriage. Like the biodiversity of an ecological system, our cultural and religious diversity makes us resilient. It provides us with different ways to understand human sexuality, and different visions of Ghanaian family life. This diversity of life-styles, world-views, and spiritual traditions can nurture the strength and the wisdom of our nation; they are a treasure to protect, not a set of heresies to suppress.
Diversity Is a Ghanaian Value
For Christians, for Muslims, and for the people of Ghana, this kind of diversity is a virtue and a value.
Christians believe that God values diversity. God created us as one human family, each one’s difference giving glory to God. Though we are one body, we are all different members.[xxvi] Christians value social diversity; many of them believe that God’s Kingdom of justice and peace ‘gathers people of every race, language and way of life.’[xxvii] The Bible tells us that God’s Kingdom will be like a great tree, and that ‘birds of every kind will nest under it, taking shelter in the shade of its branches.’[xxviii] These images underline the religious value of difference for people of faith.
Muslims too believe that God values diversity. As the Qur’an tells us: ‘We have assigned to each of you a law and a way of life. If God had wanted, He could have made all of you a single community … So compete in doing what is good. You will all return to God, and He will clarify these matters about which you have differed.’[xxix] And again: ‘O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single male and female, and made you into tribes and families so that you may know one another.’[xxx] God makes us different because God wants us to experience those differences, to be enriched by them, and to use them for the good. There are many choices which human societies need to make – but about spiritual differences (like the best ways to be intimate and to love), the final word will be clarified when we see God face to face.
Sadly, lawmakers in other African nations have followed the lead of foreign groups like the US-based ‘World Congress of Families.’ When this group came to Ghana in 2019 at the invitation of the ‘National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values,’ they met with a number of parliamentarians and with the former President of the Republic of Ghana. Through money and political pressure, groups like the World Congress of Families have convinced legislators in numerous African nations to spread their religiously conservative ‘monoculture’ across the Continent. By promoting this type of legislation, these groups try to remake Africans in their cultural image.
We urge you to reject this kind of foreign monoculture, so that Ghanaians can integrate our appropriate customary values into the fabric of our national life in our own time, and in our own ways.[xxxi]
[i] Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, Article 35.
[ii] Ghanaian Criminal Code of 1960, section 104.1.b
[iii] ‘A person commits an offence if the person (e) holds out as a lesbian, a gay, a transgender, a transsexual, a queer, a pansexual, an ally, a non-binary, or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female’ (Clause 6.1; emphasis added).
[iv] ‘A person in whose presence an offence is committed under this Act shall report the commission of the offence to a police officer, or … a political leader, opinion leader or the customary authorities of the community’ (Clause 5.1). These ‘persons’ include a parent; a guardian; a teacher or any other educational or religious instructor; a church, a mosque or any other religious or traditional institution or organization’ (Clause 3.2.a-d).
[v] 1 Cor 13: 4-7.
[vi] Quran 1:1.
[vii] Clause 23 of the Bill allows Government Ministries to recognize and support ‘therapies’ for persons who are ‘questioning’ their sexuality. However, Clause 2 makes it clear that any identity which ‘questions’ heterosexuality is punishable under this law.
[viii] Clause 22.1 of the Bill prohibits ‘extra judicial treatment’ of people ‘accused of an offence under this Act,’ or of anyone associated with ‘LGBTTQQIAAP+’ identity. Yet Clause 22.3 of the Bill allows Ghanaians to incite ill-will, anger, and public outrage by broadcasting anti-gay propaganda (‘graphic description[s] of the behavioural pattern of a person engaged in an activity prohibited under this Act’).
[ix] Introduction to Draft Bill, p. 2.
[x] Draft Bill, Clauses 2 and 6.
[xi] Mercy Odyoye, ‘A Critique of Mbiti’s View on Marriage and Love in Africa,’ in Jacon K. Olupona and Sulayman S. Nyang, eds., Religious Plurality in Africa (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993), 361.
[xii] Consider how God approves of “eunuchs” – a sexual minority – in Is 56:34, Mt 19:12, and Acts 8.
[xiii] ‘Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.” (Ru 1:16-18)
[xiv] Christopher Senyonjo, In Defense of All God’s Children: The Life and Ministry of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. New York: Morehouse publishing, 2016.
[xv] Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Jeffrey S. Siker, ed., Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994).
[xvi] This Bill defines ‘gender’ in a naïve and highly unscientific way. According to Clause 2 of the Bill, ‘“gender” means the binary sex categories of male and female assigned at birth, and the behavioural, cultural and psychological traits typically associated with either sex” (emphasis added). The Bill does not explain how to determine which traits are ‘typically associated’ with each gender. Nor does it explain which culture should prevail when different Ghanaian traditions associate conflicting traits with one gender (see the discussion below).
[xvii] Qur’an 28:68.
[xviii] Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, ‘The Homosexual Challenge to Muslim Ethics.’ Lamppost Education
Initiative. Accessed October 22, 2017. http://www.lamppostproductions.com/the-homosexualchallenge-
[xix] Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, ‘Sex Change in Cairo: Gender and Islamic Law,’ The Journal of the International Institute 2 no. 3 (Spring 1995) http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.4750978.0002.302.
[xx] Junaid Jahangir and Hussein Abdullatif, ‘Same-sex Unions in Islam,’ Theology & Sexuality 24 no. (2018): 157-173.
[xxi] Clause 10.2c of the Bill criminalises this traditional custom by defining ‘intentional crossdressing’ as a form of ‘gross indecency’ which is punishable under this Act.
[xxii] Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2021).
[xxiii] Rose Mary Amenga-Etego, ‘Marriage without Sex? Same-sex Marriages and Female Identity among the Nankani of Northern Ghana,’ Ghana Bulletin of Theology New Series 4 (Dec 2012): 14-37.
[xxiv] The Bill clearly intends to criminalise scholarly activity and publications that ‘promote’ the rights of ‘LGBTTQQIAAP+’ persons: for example, the right to discuss their lives and experience in a positive way; the right to create families with each other; the right to pursue local cultural traditions such as cross-dressing; and so on (see Clauses 12.1 and 12.2). The work of scholars like Amenga-Etego and Oduyoye would certainly be viewed as ‘promoting’ this kind of sexual diversity, and as undermining a narrow view of Ghanaian family values. Their work would certainly be subject to prosecution and proscription under this Bill.
[xxv] Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, Article 39.
[xxvi] 1 Cor 12.
[xxvii] Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II, Roman Catholic Church.
[xxviii] Ez17:23; cf. Mk 4:32.
[xxix] Qur’an 5:48.
[xxx] Qur’an 49:12.
[xxxi] Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, Article 39.