Saturday, January 23, 2010

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Uganda has taken a step backwards, and the mainstream Christian churches are either willing accomplices or too weak to speak up in opposition. Unfortunately, it is beginning to look like more of the former.

Uganda has under consideration an Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It includes the death penalty for the offences covered under Section 3 Aggravated Homosexuality (Part II, Section 3). At first blush one would think that the Section is attempting to prevent rape, but GayUganda puts all into a context that is truly frightening.

So, I, a gay Ugandan in my majority can get the death penalty if and when:-

When I have sex with a minor
When I have gay sex and I am HIV positive.
When my partner is disabled in any way. Doesnt matter if they have reached majority
When I am arrested a second time and convicted of homosexuality... as a 'serial offender'

That last appears to be a reference to Section 4, Attempt to commit homosexuality, clause (1), which states that an attempt to commit an offence covered under Section 2 results in a 7 year jail term, whereas in clause (2) an attempt to commmit an offence under Section 3 results in life imprisonment. So if you are a gay person in Uganda and you are convicted of actually committing a homosexual act you go to jail for life. If you are caught more than once attempting to engage in a homosexual act, as defined in the bill, you can be executed as a serial offender.

Uganda is primarily Catholic but it is not certain the heirarchy will oppose it even if for no other reason than to oppose the death penalty. In fact, it would seem that the Christian leadership in Uganda, including Catholics, support the bill. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke up against it, however reactions from some African clergy suggest that his words don't resonate on the ground there. Benedict XVI has been silent, although a Vatican spokesperson, commenting on a UN resolution, expressed opposition to discrimination against gays.

I understand African resentment at what appears to be Western meddling by those of us who are appalled by this bill although, like anyone else, it appears they accept the meddling of those whose beliefs are convergent with their own. Jeff Sharlet has documented the link between the bill's proponent and The Family, a group that includes a bipartisan group of Senators and Congressmen who reside at a Family-owned residence in Washington D.C. Read more about it at Jeff's blog.

Africa, like Latin America, is not some monolith of shared views and values (recall the violence in Rwanda and more recently Sudan). It suffered at the hands of colonialists, and for that reason may still be struggling with modernity and all that implies. That does not excuse the Christian silence but given what underlies that silence I fear for the gay community specifically, and all others who are deemed to not live in concordance with "African culture and values" however they may be defined. They may be next.

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