LGBT rights in Liberia

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PenaltyMaximum of 1 year imprisonment or maximum of LBR$1,000 fine, or both
Discrimination protectionsUnknown
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsUnknown

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Liberia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Liberia.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Subchapter D (relating to sexual offences) of Chapter 14 of the Penal Law of Liberia criminalizes voluntary sodomy, as follows:[1]

Section 14.74. Voluntary sodomy. A person who engages in deviate sexual intercourse under circumstance not stated in Section 14.72 [relating to aggravated involuntary sodomy] or 14.73 [relating to involuntary sodomy] has committed a first degree misdemeanor.
Section 14.79. Definitions relating to sections on sexual crimes against the person. In this subchapter:
(a) "sexual intercourse" occurs upon penetration, however slight; ejaculation is not required;
(b) "deviate sexual intercourse" means sexual contact between human beings who are not husband and wife or living together as man and wife though not legally married, consisting of contact between the penis and the anus, the mouth and the penis, or the mouth and vulva;
(c) "sexual contact" means any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.

Chapter 50 of the Penal Code of Liberia specifies the penalties for violating the preceding laws:[1]

Section 50.7. Sentence to imprisonment for misdemeanor. A person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor may be sentenced to imprisonment for the following terms:
(a) For a misdemeanor of the first degree, to a definite term of imprisonment to be fixed by the court at no more than one year....
Section 50.9. Authorized fines; restitution. 1. As to individuals. Except as otherwise expressly provided, and subject to the limitation contained in paragraph 3, an individual who has been convicted of an offense may be sentenced to pay a fine which does not exceed:
* * * *
(c) For a misdemeanor of the first degree, [LBR]$1,000 [US$8.87], or double the gain realized by the defendant;
Section 50.10. Imposition of fines. 1. Ability to pay. In determining the amount and the method of payment of a fine, the court shall, insofar as practicable, proportion the fine to the burden that payment will impose in view of the financial resources of the defendant. ...
2. Fine alone. When any other disposition is authorized by statute, the court shall not sentence an individual to pay a fine only unless, having regard to the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and character of the defendant, it is of the opinion that the fine alone will suffice for the protection of the public.
3. Fine in addition to sentence of imprisonment. The court shall not sentence a defendant to pay a fine in addition to a sentence of imprisonment or probation unless:
(a) The defendant has derived a pecuniary gain from the crime; or
(b) The court is of the opinion that a fine is specially adapted to deterrence of the crime involved.

Summary conditions[edit]

The U.S. Department of State's 2012 human rights report found,

The ... culture is strongly opposed to homosexuality. ... LGBT persons were cautious [in 2012] about revealing their sexual identities, and groups that supported the rights of LGBT persons did so quietly due to fear of retaliation. ... There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons perceived to be LGBT, but none were officially documented. Societal stigma and fear of official reprisal may have prevented victims from reporting violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In October[,] a law enforcement officer refused to investigate allegations of the beating of a gay man. The police subsequently arrested one gay man. Activists alleged that the [Liberian National Police] ... or other law enforcement agencies targeted or harassed those they believe to be LGBT. There were a few civil society groups promoting the rights of LGBT individuals, but they maintained a very low profile due to fear of persecution.[2]

In 2012, the Movement for the Defense of Gays and Lesbians in Liberia was established, with Archie Ponpon as its head. The Liberian government, however, has rejected the movement's request for registration, and Ponpon has faced a violent reaction to his efforts. His mother's house has been burned to the ground. After speaking in favor of LGBT rights on public radio in Monrovia in early March 2012, a violent mob confronted him as he left the radio station. The police intervened to protect Ponpon from harm.[3]

Legislation considered in 2012[edit]

In response to an effort to petition the Liberian legislature to protect the rights of LGBT residents, the speaker of the house of representatives, Alex Tyler, told journalists in January 2012 that his colleagues have already denounced the effort. "I am a Methodist and traditionalist. I will never support a gay bill because it is damaging to the survival of the country." He also warned that any LGBT rights bill introduced in the house "will be thrown in the ‘Du or Montserrado River".[4]

In February 2012, Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, the former wife of former president Charles Taylor, introduced legislation that would make same-sex sexual relations a first degree felony with a maximum punishment of death.[5] A similar bill was introduced in the house of representatives by Clarence K. Massaquoi in early February 2012 except that the offense would be a second degree felony.[6][7]

In a letter to The Guardian newspaper that was printed 23 March 2012, the Liberian presidential press secretary, Jerolinmek Matthew Piah, said,

Your article ... failed to portray the position of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on purported legislation on homosexuality. There is no law referencing homosexuality in Liberia, so she could not be defending a law on homosexuality. She is on record as saying ... that any law brought before her regarding homosexuality will be vetoed. This also applies to an attempt by two members of the Liberian legislature to introduce tougher laws targeting homosexuality. It is therefore very disappointing to see you report that President Sirleaf is defending laws criminalising homosexuality. She and her government believe the current law on sexual practices sufficiently addresses the concerns of the majority of Liberians and guarantees respect for traditional values. The reality is that the status quo in Liberia has been one of tolerance, and no one has ever been prosecuted under that law. The president also thinks that with the unprecedented freedom of speech and expression Liberia enjoys today, our budding democracy will be strong enough to accommodate new ideas and debate both their value and Liberia's laws with openness, respect[,] and independence.[8]

On 20 July 2012, the Liberian senate voted unanimously to enact legislation to prohibit and criminalize same-sex marriages.[9] Later in July, an online petition was launched by the Mr. Gay World Organization to revoke Sirleaf's Nobel Peace Prize if she signs this legislation.[10]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Up to 1 year imprisonment)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (Incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]