More Light Presbyterians calls on Uganda president Yoweri Museveni to veto the Anti-Homosexuality Bill recently passed by the parliament. We believe that all Ugandans are made in God’s image, including members of the LGBTI community. The harsh penalties imposed by this bill for consensual same-sex conduct between adults and for people who work for the well-being of LGBTI people in Uganda do not reflect the Christian call to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Note, LGBTI is the African acronym)
The passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by Uganda’s parliament on December 20, 2013 arrives on the heels of India’s Supreme Court decision to keep in place a British colonial-era statute outlawing homosexuality. Uganda’s current laws against homosexuality derive from this Indian statue and the parliament seeks to build on this colonial legacy and strengthen it. Developments in Uganda are part of a larger trend including increased persecution of LGBTI people in Zambia and Zimbabwe and the criminalization of activity that promotes the well-being of LGBTI people in Russia.
Human Rights organizations like East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Hivos, Human Rights Watch, and Sexual Minorities Uganda have all called the bill a significant step backward for Uganda’s commitments to respect human rights:
The approved bill establishes life sentences for any form of penetration or sexual stimulation of a person of the same sex, as well as for “aggravated” homosexuality, which would apply to “serial offenders” among others, according to sources present during the parliamentary debate. Article 145 of the current penal code already punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” a colonial-era term understood to refer to sex between men, with life imprisonment. The new text would extend the punishment to sexual relations between women.
The bill further criminalizes the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality – an attack on the right to freedom of expression. Human rights groups and other organizations that seek to promote tolerance and put an end to violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as organizations providing health services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, could potentially be shut down, and their directors could face prison sentences.
To understand the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on the LGBTI community, watch this video from Human Rights Watch.
However, the homophobia that undergirds the Ugandan bill was not necessarily a simple product of the national sentiment. The film God Loves Uganda by director Roger Ross Williams pulls back the curtain on the dangerous export of homophobia by the American religious right into Uganda. Born-again Christian and Ugandan MP David Bahati, the lead sponsor of the bill, called the passage a victory for Uganda. “I am glad the parliament has voted against evil. Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Bahati and other members of Uganda’s parliament met with American ex-gay activist Scott Lively in 2009 while he conducted seminars in Uganda. Soon after Lively left Uganda, Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into parliament. Lively is being sued in U.S. Federal Court by Sexual Minorities Uganda for the persecution of LGBTI people.
In a largely conservative Christian Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has widespread support. Between 85% to 90% of Ugandans identify as Christian and 80% of them hold conservative views about LGBTI people. Over the past 100 years Africa has experienced the most dramatic demographic religious transformation of any continent. In 1910 Africa was largely animistic in the south and Muslim in the north. There were 11.7 million Christians. By 2010 the Christian population has grown by 40 times to more than 490 million due to ongoing missionary efforts by conservative Christian groups from Europe and the United States. This has made Uganda and other parts of Africa futile ground for a proxy war by America’s religious right.
More Light Presbyterians is committed to use our channels in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ensure that the image of God, human rights and the dignity of all LGBTI people are respected in Uganda and globally. We look forward to joining our voices with other people of faith to ensure the safety and well-being of all Ugandans.