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Catholic Cardinal in Ghana says homosexuality should not be a criminal offense

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Some lawmakers in Ghana want to send people to jail simply for identifying as LGBTQ. And that's why a Catholic cardinal, seen as a leading candidate for Pope, is speaking out. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HARDTALK")

PETER TURKSON: My position has simply been this - that LGBT gay people may not be criminalized because they've committed no crime. To criminalize anybody, you need to be able to identify their crime.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: These comments by Cardinal Peter Turkson in Ghana have reverberated around the country. He told the BBC's "HARDtalk" program that while he was still against gay marriage, homosexuality should not be criminalized.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HARDTALK")

TURKSON: But neither should this position also become something to be imposed on cultures which are not yet ready to accept stuff like that.

AKINWOTU: Catholic bishops have been part of a powerful coalition of religious, civil and political groups in support of a controversial antigay law in Ghana. This united position has now been challenged.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HARDTALK")

TURKSON: It's time to begin education to help people understand what this phenomenon is.

AKINWOTU: For the last few years, hysteria against gay people has grown intense in the largely religious and conservative West African country encouraged by international actors like U.S. evangelical groups. A draft bill in Ghana's parliament would punish anyone who identifies as an LGBTQ+ person with up to three years in jail. Campaigners or supporters could also face up to 10 years. A far harsher law was adopted in Uganda earlier this year.

AUDREY GADZEKPO: Very few people of stature in Ghanaian society have been bold enough to come out and say, no, we don't think that it should be criminalized.

AKINWOTU: Professor Audrey Gadzekpo is an academic at the University of Ghana. She said until now, a tense climate for perceived allies of LGBTQ+ people has silenced criticism of the bill.

GADZEKPO: He is the most prominent person in Ghanaian society who has done that, and it comes with all of the moral authority that such a person commands.

AKINWOTU: The comments from Turkson may have marked a shift. The deputy majority leader in parliament also came out against the bill. Others may soon follow. A legal challenge has delayed the passage of the bill, but if it reaches a vote, it is expected to pass. Then Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo will have to decide whether to sign the bill into law.

Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Accra.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWDIVE'S "PRAYER REMEMBERED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.