The Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been caught on the back foot by a “misleading” article published in The Guardian which accused her of an anti-gay stance. A swift correction was printed by the British newspaper the next day, but the backlash from the news prompted this statement from Executive Mansion in Monrovia:
“1. There are no anti-gay or anti-lesbian laws anywhere in Liberia. However, as in any country in the world, because of religious and cultural beliefs and behaviors that go back to the founding of the nation, there are laws that condemn certain sexual practices. These laws do not target any specific social and political group. We therefore do not have laws that are pro- or anti-gay. Some social activists want to introduce laws that make “gay marriage legal,” and some legislators want to bring in new laws that criminalize what they consider as “gay or lesbian sexual practices.” The President is on record as saying that she will veto any such legislation.
“2. While the U.S. and other countries were discussing and coming to terms with Gay and Lesbian issues, Liberia was embroiled in a civil war and such matters were far from its list of priorities. Now that the country is getting back on track, with the level of freedom of speech and the level of political discourse that is ongoing, there is no doubt that the questions of rights for segments of society who feel discriminated will come to the fore. The people will discuss such matters and, as in any democracy, the people or their representatives will have the final say.
“3. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has spent a lifetime in the struggle for freedom and civil liberties and will never condone discrimination against any group. At the same time, the President will allow the democratic process to take its course and let people discuss issues in an atmosphere of freedom and without fear. Liberia has a great level of tolerance and will be able to deal with these matters and the people will decide which way to go. As in any democracy, the President will not impose her personal beliefs on the people, but she reserves her constitutional prerogatives to stop any type of extremist legislation intended to marginalize or give a particular group of citizens a status because of their sexual orientation or practices.”
This statement from the Liberian capital appears to mean that decriminalization of consensual gay sex in Liberia is currently as unlikely as the recognition of gay marriage.
President Sirleaf has made a commitment to the status quo in an environment where both greater freedom and greater persecution are being forwarded by the legislature.