Monday, March 19, 2012
Liberian President Defends Anti-Gay Legislation in Talk With Tony Blair (VIDEO)

Liberian President Defends Anti-Gay Legislation in Talk With Tony Blair (VIDEO)

Nobel Peace Prize Winner and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defended the country's anti-homosexuality laws in an interview alongside former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday, saying the citizens of her country "like ourselves just the way we are."

In Liberia, acts of "voluntary sodomy" are punishable by up to one year in prison, although newer legislation has been proposed that would increase those penalties.

Sirleaf also added in the interview with the Guardian's Tamasin Ford that she would not pass any harsher penalties against homosexuality, saying, "I won't sign any law that has to do with that area, whatsoever."

Sitting next to Sirleaf during the interview was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a pro-homosexual rights Roman Catholic who created civil partnerships and allowed homosexuals into the military while leading the U.K. government.


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Blair currently heads the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), an organization he helped found that works to help struggling nations improve in development. 

"We've got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve," said Sirleaf, casting sideways glances at Blair and choosing her words carefully.

Ford then asked for Blair's opinion of the legislation, much to the ex-prime minister's chagrin.

"I'm not giving you an answer on it," Blair explained with a grimace. "One of the advantages of doing what I do now is I can choose the issues I get into and the issues I don't. For us, the priorities are around power, roads, jobs delivery."

Blair and Sirleaf were meeting to discuss the AGI's assistance with a set of plans to help African governments develop and improve infrastructure.

"I'm not saying these issues aren't important," Blair added, "but the president has given her position and this is not one for me."

After spending many years in exile during the reign of former dictator Charles Taylor, Sirleaf was elected as the president of Liberia in 2005 and again in 2011. She is currently the first and only female head of state in Africa.

Sirleaf, along with fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Yemen's Tawakkul Karman, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her accomplishments in defending women's rights within the region.

Homosexuality in Liberia has become an even more contentious issue this year after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at the end of 2011 that LGBT rights would be taken into consideration when dispersing U.S. foreign aid.

Since then, Liberian public opinion has put even more emphasis on the issue of homosexuality, which some newspapers in the country have called "desecrating," "abusive," and an "abomination."

Many other African nations have taken similar stances against homosexuality, with homosexual acts designated as a criminal offense in 37 different African countries.

"If [Sirleaf] tried to decriminalize the [current anti-gay] law it would be political suicide," said Tiawan S. Gongloe, Liberia's former solicitor general.


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