Liberia considers 2 anti-gay proposals

Published: March 1, 2012

MONROVIA, Liberia—Two new bills introduced into Liberia’s legislature would make the country the latest on the African continent to punish homosexuality with possible jail time.

Liberian law currently does not explicitly address homosexuality. "Voluntary sodomy" is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison, but there have been no recent convictions, according to the most recent U.S. State Department Human Rights Report.

A bill introduced by Rep. Clarence Massaquoi, which is currently being reviewed in committee, makes "same-sex sexual practices" a second-degree felony, punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

It also would apply to anyone who "seduces, encourages (or) promotes another person of the same gender to engage in sexual activities."

"Homosexuality is not part of our existence as a people," Massaquoi said in an interview at his legislative office. "We have never been like that."

It comes on the heels of a bill introduced early in February by former first lady, Senator Jewel Taylor, making same-sex marriage a first-degree felony, with sentences ranging up to 10 years in prison.

Members of the underground gay and lesbian community say their security situation has worsened, and that they have recently been subjected to regular threats and occasional violence.

"Liberia has made considerable progress in consolidating democracy over the last five years, but the proposed bill to increase penalties for consensual same-sex activity is a regrettable step backward," said Corinne Dufka, Human Rights Watch’s senior West Africa researcher. "Such laws not only violate the right to privacy and to nondiscrimination, they also serve as a distraction from addressing the many real problems facing Liberia, such as strengthening the judiciary, addressing poverty and ensuring good economic governance. "

Contempt for homosexuals has led to anti-gay legal measures elsewhere in Africa. Last year, Nigeria’s Senate voted in favor of a bill that would criminalize gay marriage, gay advocacy groups and same-sex public displays of affection. A newly added portion of the bill levels 10 years in prison for those found guilty of organizing, operating or supporting gay clubs, organizations and meetings.

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