The lady who once stood by her man in reticence as he carried out one of the most vicious campaigns of human rights abuse in the history of both Liberia and Sierra Leone, is now in the forefront of carrying out her own vicious crusade against gay rights in Liberia.
Jewel Howard Taylor’s campaign to criminalize gay marriage got a boost in the Liberian senate recently, when that body did just that by amending the constitution to prohibit marriage between gay couples.
The Liberian people experienced these same violations of their rights years ago when Charles Taylor, who was then married to Jewel, did not only imposed his violent brand of leadership on them; but also held them hostage until they elected him president.
As a witness to the most despicable and fatal decisions ever made in the history of Liberia during her husband’s stint as both a rebel leader and President of Liberia, Jewel Howard Taylor had a chance in her new life to change the tone of the national debate from being divisive to embracing and unifying the Liberian people.
She did not. Instead, she picked a socially and culturally polarizing issue that surely divided Liberians along ethnic and religious lines.
Responding to the overwhelming support her bill got from her colleagues, Ms. Taylor added, “My bill seeks to ensure that people of the same sex under our law should not be allowed to get married. During a previous debate on the same issue, the Senator reportedly suggested making homosexuality a first-degree felony punishable up to a 10-year prison sentence.
It is so true that this issue is not a popular one in Liberia. President Sirleaf, keenly aware of its unpopularity played it skillfully to score points, even as it undermines her credibility as a Nobel laureate who jointly won her peace prize for fighting non-violently for women’s rights, and also for participating in peace-building work.
President Sirleaf danced her way around the issue gingerly, was profoundly vague in her public statement, did not show leadership, but added: “We like ourselves the way we are. We’ve got certain traditional values in our society we would like to preserve.”
However, when pressure began to pour in from Liberia’s international friends regarding her government’s position about this sensitive issue, the Liberian leader promised through her spokesman that she would veto the bill if it made it to her desk.
Sadly, the president did not veto the bill, and this is happening at a time when Liberians are returning home to uncertainty in a crumbling nation far from embracing all Liberians as human beings. This is also happening at a time when insensitivity, intolerance and the obvious lack of law and order is threatening to destroy the fragile peace the Liberian people has ever enjoyed since the coming of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
For Jewel Howard Taylor, the idea of Liberians living happily in peace and prosperity in their own country is not a concern in this extremely fragile post-war era, but a time to legislate how those Liberians should live their lives, and with whom they share their precious time.
As an elected official, the former wife of Charles believes it is her business to legislate morality in a dysfunctional nation fraught with underdevelopment, abject poverty, rampant corruption, and an ineffective legislative branch of government of which she’s a vocal and visible member.
As First Lady of Liberia, however, Jewel Howard Taylor did not make her name as a supporter and spokesperson of charitable causes that make a difference in the lives of Liberians. She did not spearhead a national campaign (as she is now doing against gay rights) to support life and death causes such as mental health projects, back to school campaigns, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, AIDS, hunger, etc, etc.
She did not even define her ceremonial role as First Lady in terms of being a conscience of a broken people during a time of anxiety and uncertainty, but looked the other way and tacked along opportunistically as an unprincipled partner who conveniently kept a bogus marriage with a criminal alive, even as innocent Liberians painfully beg the Taylor clan to spare their lives.
With Charles put away for the rest of his life in a European jail (where he rightfully belong) for human rights violations, Jewel, not wanting to be left out of the political limelight cleverly ran for the Liberian Senate representing the people of Bong County.
That political move made Jewel Howard Taylor a proud member of the spineless Liberian legislative branch of government, and catapulted her into the national spotlight at a time when another female, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, became a trailblazing political leader in that troubled country.
It is one thing to be an ambitious former wife of a warlord-turned president, whose loyalty and devotion to her spouse kept her mum on burning national issues during her years in the Executive Mansion, and another to be a member of the Liberian Senate.
Perhaps Jewel Howard Taylor has forgotten that there is a sense of responsibility that comes with being a member of the Liberian senate. Being respectful, sensitive, and tolerant of individual differences and views, and contributing to the national debate in both a balanced and compassionate way, are key elements of being a responsible leader.
With a deadly civil war still etched in the minds of Liberians, and the massive reasons why a war was fought in the first place are staring at us daily are enough reasons to stay clear of those divisive social issues that could create tension, and does not put food on the tables of Liberians.
Instead of legislating homosexuality, Jewel Howard Taylor and her colleagues should concentrate on creating jobs, and ought to pass a bill that grants dual citizenship to Liberians living abroad.
Those Senators and Representatives should work on changing the current term limits of their own members of the House of Representatives and Senate from what it is now to a sensible term limit, pass a bill that makes the National Elections Commission independent and neutral, make the imperial presidency accountable to the Liberian people, pass a sensible bill that coordinates commercial transportation in the greater Monrovia area, and then replace Amos Sawyer’s recent decentralization report with a sensible one that genuinely empowers Superintendents, who shouldn’t be macromanaged by the President of Liberia and the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Jewel Howard Taylor’s anti-gay bill is a bad bill. It is an irresponsible bill that could reopen old wounds and threatens Liberia’s peace, and distinction as a warm and friendly place to travel.