A Senior Programmes Officer, Human Rights and Social Inclusion at the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), Michael Augustus Akagbor, has stated that the religious bloc of Ghana’s parliament is the driving force behind the agenda to pass the controversial anti-gay bill into law.
According to him, the proponents of the bill are carrying the views of the political elite to pass a law largely based on religious sentiments.
The discussions about the controversial bill are back on the table after the US Ambassador to Ghana, Virginia Palmer, warned that Ghana would face severe economic challenges should the bill banning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) activities be passed.
The MP for Ningo Prampram constituency, Sam George, a lead sponsor of the private member’s bill known as the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, insists Ghana will wither the storm even if the United States cuts trade ties after the passage.
But the CDD Fellow disagrees, drawing attention to the economic impact that Uganda suffered after going ahead to pass one of the strictest anti-gay laws in recent times.
He insists the bill seeks to abuse the rights of minority groups, and cannot be a progressive move in a democratic dispensation.
“One of the things that’s happening that we don’t want to say is that parliament as we have it today, when it comes to this issue, is beholden to the religious bloc. It is the religious bloc that’s driving this agenda” he noted.
And it’s more so because if you look at the way our country is today, our political elites have ceded much of their power to be able to act instrumentally in the way the constitution requires to make laws, and have ceded that space to the religious bloc. So a lot of these talking points in this bill that Sam George is talking about, are all just religious talking points” he argued.
While acknowledging that the majority of Ghanaians according to a survey conducted by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) are in support of the bill, Mr Augustus Akagbor believes the bill is fundamentally flawed.
The point I am trying to make is that, we need to make a clear distinction between tinkering with rights and also criminalizing an act. The state deals with crimes, and the church deals with sin. But to carry the morality of the issue of sin to make it a crime I think it’s problematic for a democratic dispensation, and we have to start making that distinction. How do we criminalize an identity, who does that? How do you in any sense criminalize an identity?“ he quizzed
When the host, Evans Mensah reminded him that the country’s existing law already criminalizes unnatural carnal knowledge for instance, he said, “The law [Criminal Code] does not confer rights. The Constitution is the macro rights document.
He also explained that Ghana’s existing law on unnatural carnal knowledge itself makes the new anti-gay bill more problematic.
“That’s what makes this whole bill problematic for me personally. CDD is not advocating that men can go and have sex; that has nothing to do with the issue. For us, it’s a human rights issue. It’s the same way that should any minority suffer such injustice from society we will go to butt for that same person. It could be Sam George himself tomorrow, and I could go butt for him if his rights are violated, or if in any way society decides that they want to regularize the state in a way that they will punish him for who he is.
In response to the claim by Sam George that gender identity is not one of the globally accepted rights, the CDD-Ghana Fellow said the legislator lacked an understanding of the constitution.
“It tells me obviously that Sam George does not understand the Constitution. The Ghana constitution specifically states that we cannot discriminate against anybody on certain categories, one of them being gender.
He [Sam George] said he has read the Constitution, so I am probably thinking he used the concept of sex. If you go back to the 1969 constitution, under the Provisions of Rights, sex was a category for protection, 1979 constitution sex was mentioned, 1992 constitution gender was used, and that should tell you something “he noted.
And the constitution in its application is a neutral document; probably Sam George doesn’t know that. That is why when the constitution says religion, it doesn’t say Christian or Muslim; so when it says gender, it is inclusive of identities of people who might be different; so his [Sam George] understanding of the constitution itself is flawed in the first place ,“ he stated.
The CDD Fellow also responded to Sam George’s claims about natural rights.
“He [Sam George] keeps talking about natural rights and I feel like he still hasn’t gotten the concept of how rights emerged in the polity. There are four different ways that we can talk about rights one of them being natural rights.”
There are also deliberative rights that come from deliberations. If he has read John Hobbes, the Leviathan-why we created the social contract so that men could give up certain rights so that we could have a stable society through deliberation.
Theee are also protest rights; these rights come from social injustices in the society; the civil rights movement and women’s rights, all these are protest rights. And then we have discourse rights; these emerged from societies where people who have power decide that others shouldn’t have rights; and that is exactly where we are with this bill. This is a discourse right” he added.