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Liberia plans life in jail or death for gay sex

Liberia is considering its own ‘kill the gays bill’ inspired by former first lady Jewel Taylor
Both houses of the Legislature of Liberia are examining anti-gay legislation.

Former Liberian first lady Jewel Taylor has introduced a bill proposing that homosexuality should be punished with the death sentence.

Former president Charles Taylor’s ex-wife is now a senator in the west African country and also wants to ban gay marriage.

The proposed legislation says: ‘No two persons of the same sex shall have sexual relations. A violation of this prohibition will be considered a first degree felony.’

‘Sodomy’ is already criminalized in Liberia and punishable by a fine, according to some reports, and up to three years imprisonment, according to others.

But if it becomes a first degree felony the punishment could be 10 years to life in jail or, if the judge decides, the death sentence.

A similar bill has been introduced into the lower house of the legislature by Clarence Massaquoi who represents the county of Lofa in the north west of the country.

His bill, if passed, would punish anyone who has gay sex ‘with or without the consent of the other partner’ and is apparently being examined by the house.

A debate has started around LGBT rights in the country which supporters of the new bill, including senator George Tengbeh, hopes will be stifled by this proposed legislation.

He told AFP it aims ‘to prevent the parliament from talking about such an issue that is against our tradition and culture.’

Tengbeh also hit out at UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, for his appeal to African leaders to endorse gay rights.

There has even been lobbying for same-sex marriage in Liberia which is being stamped on by the government.

The information ministry released a statement on 26 January saying: ‘The Liberian government will not allow the legalisation of gay and lesbian activities in Liberia. The president has vowed not to allow such a bill, and even if the bill goes before the president she will veto it.’

However President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself, who is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, does not appear to have commented publicly on the subject.

Some have even suggested that the tougher rhetoric against the LGBT community in Liberia and Cameroon may be a domino effect from the ‘kill the gays’ bill currently being debated again in Uganda, which has attracted widespread criticism.

It certainly seems like the issue is heating up in Liberia. Previously the US Department of State's 2010 human rights report found ‘there were no reported instances of violence based on sexual orientation’ in the country although it did note ‘the culture is strongly opposed to homosexuality’ and there were no LGBT organizations in the country.

There are some reports that the most public organization now in existence, Movement in Defence of Gay and Lesbian Rights, may not contain any LGBT people. It was this organization that apparently started the campaign for same-sex marriage in the country, attracting widespread opposition and reportedly leading to the organisation’s leaders being mobbed at a university campus, according to AFP.

The likelihood of the bill passing is not known but Jewel Taylor in particular is no stranger to human rights abuses. Her former husband was a warlord indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity due to his part in the Sierra Leone civil war.

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