Religious intolerance of homosexuality is nothing new, but rarely has it been as prominent and as abhorrent as the current situation in Uganda, where a new bill put forward to the Ugandan Parliament proposes sickeningly extreme measures in dealing with homosexuals in the country.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, an expansion of a previous bill from April of this year, proposes the death penalty for what it describes as ‘aggravated homosexuality’ – one definition of which involves consensual sex between two partners, where one is HIV positive. On top of that, consensual homosexual relationships where HIV is not involved is punishable by lifetime imprisonment, and anyone who is aware of a gay or lesbian couple and fails to inform the authorities of their existence within 24 hours is subject to a fine and up to three years imprisonment. Not content with those horrendous violations of human rights, the bill then imposes further restrictions on free speech – banning the homosexual community from blogging and communicating under the accusation of their ‘promotion of homosexuality’.
Ugandan citizens looking to leave the country in order to escape the reaches of this hateful act aren’t beyond action, with provisions in the bill to extend punishments and death penalties to Uganda citizens abroad, to be served upon their return to the country. What’s more, the bill sets out extradition rights, to bring such ‘offenders’ to ‘justice’ back in their home countries. In other extraordinarily draconian measures set out by the bill, new charges of ‘aiding and abetting homosexuality’ and ‘conspiracy to engage in homosexuality’ carry prison sentences of seven years, while charges for operating a brothel are defined in terms so loose as to include any hotel owner – again with an associated prison sentence of seven years.
Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni – a supporter of the act – looks likely to press the bill through parliament. Museveni has a history of anti-gay vitriol, having claimed that homosexuality has been imported to Africa from the decadent west, stating in 1998:
“When I was in America some time ago I saw a rally of 300,000 homosexuals. If you have a rally of 20 homosexuals here I want to disperse it,”
The bill, supported by the country’s strong religious leadership and evangelical churches (many of which have links to the American Christian right), has unsurprisingly attracted attention and condemnation across the world – with Gordon Brown joining the ranks of world leaders speaking out against the Ugandan government.
Unlike the Church of England – who’s spokesperson Archbishop Rowan Williams chose this week to speak out about lesbians in the American clergy, rather than to condemn homophobia in Uganda – Ugandan Aglican minister Gideon Byamugisha was clear in speaking out against the act he believes will breed violence and intolerance through all levels of society:
“I believe that this bill [if passed into law] will be state-legislated genocide against a specific community of Ugandans, however few they may be”
Uganda is one of the most HIV-hit countries in the world, and Byamugisha believes not only will the bill have a devastating effect on the fight against the disease in the country (forcing carriers to hide their symptoms rather than seek treatment), but that the bill actively targets HIV sufferers as the cause of the country’s problems. As the Guardian reported:
“[The politicians] are exploiting the traditional and cultural abhorrence to same-sex relationships to their advantage”
“What makes this proposed law truly distasteful is the amount and level of violence that is being proposed against suspected, rumoured and known individuals who are gay, and their families and community leaders in their places of worship, residence, education, work, business and entertainment.”
“When you say that parents of homosexual children, and that pastors and counsellors who extend spiritual guidance and psycho-social support to homosexuals, will be regarded as ‘accomplices’ in promoting and abetting homosexuality if they don’t report them to police, then you take the law a bit too far.”
Other ramifications of the bill could be far-reaching, with Sweden threatening to withdraw annual aid of $50million should Uganda force the homophobic law through – needless to say the poor of Uganda can ill afford to see that aid stopped, and there’s a real danger that in forcing through this act and thus cutting off international relations, Uganda is cutting itself off from the help its people desperately need. A distasteful and distressing affair all round, and a real dark day for rationalism and reason in the face of religious intolerance and extremism, I believe.