Tony Blair and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to comment during a combined interview with Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in which she defended anti-gay laws in her country.
Blair was in Liberia as the founder of the Africa Governance Initiative which aims to offer advice and support on reform to Africa’s leaders.
When asked by The Guardian in a videotaped interview about her support for a possible law decriminalising homosexuality in Liberia, Sirleaf responded:
“We’re not going to sign any such law. I won’t sign any law to do with that area. None whatsoever.”
Gay sex is illegal in Liberia and carries a penalty of one year in jail.
Sirleaf, who is the first-ever elected female head of state in Africa, added: “We like ourselves just the way we are. We’ve got certain traditional values that we would like to preserve.”
Two additional bills are being considered by Liberia’s parliament to further stiffen penalties against gays and lesbians, including banning same-sex marriage, which if flaunted could lead to a 10 year prison sentence.
When Blair, who was sitting next to the president, was asked to comment about her statement on the gay ban, he replied that he would only speak about the issues he was in Liberia to address.
“I’m not giving you an answer on it. 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,” he said.
Blair was credited with overseeing the introduction of same-sex partnerships and ending the ban on gays in the military when he was prime minister.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland later told reporters that the U.S. would contact Liberian officials about the interview to “find out whether the reporting is accurate and express some surprise and concern”.
Referring to the new Liberian anti-gay bills, she added: “I think if there were major pieces of legislation that discriminated against any group, we would have to take that into account in our relationship, and it would be a cause for concern.”
The U.S. aims to provide up to $211 million in aid to Liberia this year. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have committed America to addressing LGBT equality with other nations, especially those that it provide support for.