Monday, January 14, 2013

The Religious Right Around the Globe: Ghana's Religious Right Criticizes Oye Lithur

Nana Oye Lithur, a human rights lawyer and activist in Ghana, was recently appointed to the position of Ghana's Minister for Gender, Children, and Social Protection. Oye Lithur, executive director of Ghana's Human Rights Advocacy Centre and a regional coordinator for the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, has been recognized as a diligent supporter of women's rights and LGBTQ rights in Ghana. According to Ghana Web, representatives from various legal groups such as International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Ghana), African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA), WILDAF Ghana, and ABANTU for Development voiced confidence in Oye Lithur's capabilities.

Unfortunately, her appointment has also drawn criticism from anti-gay clergy. According to a January 14th article in Citi FM Online, a Christian group calling itself Concerned Clergy Association of Ghana has opposed the appointment of Nana Oye Lithur to the post of Minister for Gender, Children, and Social Protection. The group also opposes the appointment of Dr. Raymond Atuguba to the position of executive secretary to the president. The Concerned Clergy Association of Ghana criticized the appointments on the grounds that Oye Lithur and Atuguba support LGBTQ rights, fearing that the two may use their positions to pass LGBTQ-friendly legislation.

In an interview with Citi FM's Eyewitness News, Concerned Clergy Association spokesman Bishop Prince Benny Wood insisted that the group did not oppose Oye Lithur as a person, but is rather "protecting the sanctity of the future of this nation." Wood claimed that LGBTQ equality in the name of human rights was "destroying the world."
"You can't define human rights with that kind of immorality. That kind of position we take, always in the name of human rights, is what is destroying this world."
Wood denounced homophobic violence but also refused to support "evil".
"We are not saying that people should take cutlasses and sticks and go and kill people. We are saying that someone is doing something that isn’t right we should be able to tell them that it is wrong and if the person needs helps we should give him or her help instead of hiding behind human rights and supporting evil."
Nana Oye Lithus has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ human rights in Ghana. In 2011, after Ghana's then-president John Atta Mills made anti-gay comments, Oye Lithus stressed that the human rights of LGBTQ persons in Ghana must be respected. Ghana Web quotes her thus.
"We are guided by our 1992 Constitution that states that we are all equal before the law and every person in Ghana possess human right. So if we have homosexuals in Ghana once they are human beings they have human rights ... Not even the President of Ghana can deny anybody human rights irrespective of the person’s sexual orientation, ethnic group, gender and what have you. These are guaranteed in our constitution and everybody in Ghana has an obligation to respect that constitution."
Oye Lithur has also expressed concern over hate speech in Ghana. According to a 2011 article in Modern Ghana, she feared that increasingly hostile rhetoric against gays could foment violence against suspected gays, and urged religious leaders to preach tolerance instead of hatred.

The Concerned Clergy Association has come under fire from the national coordinator of Ghana's Domestic Violence Coalition, Adolf Awuku. According to Ghana Web, Awuku reminded Oye Lithur's critics that Ghana is not a theocracy, defending Oye Lithur's advocacy for the LGBTQ community.
“I am surprised that they will come at her at the time they are coming at her. What wrong did she do? Going to the rescue of human beings who were being lynched, who were being evicted from their homes for choosing to live differently from us ... The fact that majority of us are Christians does not mean only Christian views are be respected in this country. We are in a democracy. We are not in a theocracy and I don’t think the best way to elevate God is to go persecuting and attacking people who we don’t think are living right."
Awuku's warnings about theocracy were refreshing, and would have been just as relevant if addressed to the American Religious Right as to Ghana's Religious Right. Religious homophobia has no place in any democratic society, and homophobes' claims that they merely want to "help" gays ring hollow in Africa or America. Oye Lithur's appointment, while controversial to the Concerned Clergy Association, is also an auspicious move for Ghana's LGBTQ community.

(Hat tip to Gay Star News)

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