With the introduction of a Ugandan bill giving the death penalty for a charge of “aggravated homosexuality” – gay sex with anyone under the age of 18, sex between same-sex partners if one is HIV positive, and gay sex with a disabled person, regardless of whether they gave their consent – international condemnation has followed, but not from everyone.
The French foreign ministry has denounced the bill in a statement sent to the AFP in Kampala, saying, “France expresses deep concern regarding the bill currently before the Ugandan parliament… France reiterates its commitment to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Similarly, the British government has released a statement outlining its deep concern over the bill, telling the gay news website Pink News:
“We are concerned by the introduction of a private member’s bill on anti homosexuality in Uganda. Adoption of the bill could do serious damage to efforts to tackle HIV and its criminalisation of organisations that support homosexuality could, in theory, encompass most donor agencies and international NGOs.
“The UK, alongside our EU partners, has raised our concerns about the draft bill and LGBT rights more broadly with the government of Uganda, including with the prime minister and several other ministers, the Ugandan Human Rights Commission, and senior officials from the Ugandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“We will continue to track the passage of the bill and to lobby against its introduction.”
However, the legislator who originally introduced the bill, David Bahati, remains defiant, not only defending the law but, in a piece written for Uganda’s Observer newspaper, praising it:
“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a nice piece of legislation. It aims at holding the integrity of Ugandans high in the sky.”
“The fact that the moral fabric of America and Europe has been put under siege by the supporters of this creeping evil of homosexuality should not suggest that we follow suit.”
Similarly the Ugandan Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo said in a separate statement, “We are really getting tired of this phrase ‘human rights’” following deep criticism from such groups as Amnesty International who have said that the law is a violation of Uganda’s own laws and its international commitments.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and several other legislators have demanded “swift action” to prevent the bill’s passage into law. A news release from Baldwin’s office says:
“This egregious bill represents one of the most extreme anti-equality measures ever proposed in any country and would create a legal pretext for depriving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans of their liberty, and even their lives,” Baldwin wrote, joined by Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Howard Berman (D-CA), Vice Chair, Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and Ranking Member, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). “Particularly given the United States’ substantial contribution to Uganda through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we believe swift action is necessary to ensure Ugandan leaders understand this bill is wholly unacceptable and antithetical to democratic values,” they wrote.
The Secretary of State has been on a tour of the Middle East and has yet to comment on the tabled Ugandan gay death-penalty bill. However, her spokesperson had this to say:
“We are disturbed by violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice directed at persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity. We condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, whenever they occur. We urge states to take all the necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may, under no circumstances, be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular, executions, arrests, or detentions.”
A lack of response from leaders of the Anglican church has led to anger and speculation as to whether this is a silence motivated by fear that too strong a condemnation of the anti-gay bill could widen the divide currently afflicting the Anglicans.
Church leaders across Africa, and throughout the world, have threatened to break ties with the Anglican church if they continue to “weaken” on matters concerning homosexuality, ordination of gay priests, and also women the issue of women bishops. Anglicans have also been accused of Western imperialism by African religious leaders for trying to “export” their morality to Africa.
Still, the Church is compelled to denounce the death penalty provision of the bill as set out at the 1988 Lambeth conference in resolution 33 paragraph 3b in which the Church resolved to oppose capital punishment on the basis of the prevailing idea that all human life is sacred. Yet, as a body, they have remained silent.
That said, while religious leaders in Uganda have said they support the bill, they have opposed the death penalty stipulation, saying that imprisonment would be sufficient. MP David Bahati, who did not consult any police records while composing this bill, has admitted that he may retract that portion of the proposed law. This is at least some small, yet still awful, grace.
Dr. Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, however, has urged American Christians to formally speak up, and called for Ugandan lawmakers, and the public who support this bill, to “put down the stones”.
Saddleback mega-church leader Rick Warren, the man who President Obama controversially chose to speak at his inauguration, and who also says he ‘loves gays’ in spite of the fact that he has likened homosexuality to incest and urged his congregations to vote for Proposition 8 in 2008, failed to denounce the Ugandan gay death-penalty bill when directly asked for comment.
He has, however, reiterated that he has severed all ties with Pastor Martin Ssempa. Ssempa is a key proponent of the bill and a man Warren had allied with in the past as part of his missionary work:
Martin Ssempa does not represent me, my wife Kay, Saddleback Church, nor the Global PEACE Plan strategy. In 2007, we completely severed contact with Mr. Ssempa when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own. Our role, and the role of the PEACE Plan, whether in Uganda or any other country, is always pastoral and never political. We vigorously oppose anything that hinders the goals of the PEACE Plan: Promoting reconciliation, Equipping ethical leaders, Assisting the poor, Caring for the sick, and Educating the next generation.
When asked if he is still allied with other Ugandan ministers and law makers that are leading the push for the bill, Warren has not yet commented. Evangelical groups in America, who Truth Wins Out founder Wayne Besen had accused of having a hand in the death-penalty bill, have also been largely silent on the matter.
Sadly, the voices of religious leaders seem to be what is most needed right now, and although condemnation may be going on in private, it is not enough. Any overt political sanctions against Uganda for the gay death-penalty bill will probably only exacerbate the situation and serve as “evidence” of the West trying to meddle in Africa’s laws and society.
While condemnation from religious leaders may also be met with similar dissatisfaction, it can be assumed that such action could, at the very least, carry more weight. The question is, do the world-wide Anglican and Evangelical churches that are involved with ministry in Africa, value the lives of gay and lesbian Ugandans enough to make a stand? If they do, they must speak out. If they do not, their silence could kill.
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