The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill – Religious Intolerance At It’s Most Violent


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.

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  1. #1 by Michael on December 14, 2009 - 19:13

    I don’t think this bill has a chance of being passed as I think Uganda has signed up to the UN human rights forum. They will be breaking the agreement and Uganda always needs financial help from the UN and the IMF. They could lose it if such a bill were passed.

  2. #2 by Stu on December 14, 2009 - 20:28

    Whether this bill is passed or not isn’t really the point.

    Religion, as always, is the root of this particular evil. When the row about gay bishops in the anglican church was at it’s height there were plenty of senior african clergymen happy to state that homosexuality was an abomination.

    I you look at the breakdown of religion in Uganda more than 50% of the people are christian while only around 1% practice ‘traditional’ beliefs. So the Guardians’ statement about tradition and culture is wide of the mark (Pastors giving advice to gay people? Give me a break!). The fact is that the subject has been brought up so there will now, probably, be an increase in homophobic violence by faith heads who think they are following gods’ word.

    No religion equals no discrimination/persecution of minorities!

  3. #3 by Riayn on December 15, 2009 - 00:04

    It saddens me to see the intolerance the Christian faith has against those that do not share it and even those that do but fail to demonstrate it in a certain way. How can people say that religion is a force of good in this world when it can lead to situations like this?

  4. #4 by AexMagd on December 16, 2009 - 14:21

    It’s well worth considering the effect that Western evangelists have on countries like Uganda, especially in terms of tying the idea of human rights and democracy with particular cultural and religious ideologies.

    Definitely worth seeing Rachel Maddow’s damning indictment of Rick Warren on this issue:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/11/rachel-maddow-catches-ric_n_388624.html

  5. #5 by Gittins on December 16, 2009 - 15:06

    Stu :
    No religion equals no discrimination/persecution of minorities!

    I’m not so sure about that. Religion definitely gives legitimacy to prejudice, but I don’t think it’s the only root cause of it.

  6. #6 by Stu on December 16, 2009 - 20:33

    Ok, I take your point.

    Actually, no I don’t. I’ve been thinking hard these last few seconds and can’t think of any major (or even minor) cases of prejudicial violence in history that do not have their root in religion – and I’m a very big fan of pop-up history books from that nice colourful section in the library!

    I am, of course, more than happy to be proved wrong (wouldn’t be much of a sceptic otherwise).

  7. #7 by AexMagd on December 17, 2009 - 15:44

    There are all kinds – racism isn’t religiously motivated for a start, and neither is sexism (although does it count as prejudice against a minority when the oppressed actually outnumber you?).

    Prejudice is often caused by a complex range of personal reasons. Religion’s just an easy – an all too easy! – excuse to justify them. I think the kind of people who are pushing to kill homosexuals in Uganda probably have serious personal problems with people being gay, and would feel that even if religion wasn’t there to confirm their bias for them. I guess the best we can hope for is that if religion were out of the picture they’d be fuming silently about it impotently, just like Have Your Say’ers and BNP supporters do these days with their racial prejudices.

  8. #8 by non-fiction books on February 15, 2010 - 13:14

    “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.” thats just INSANE.

    so technically, the police officer who has all along been serving that very person who is suspected of being gay should be imprisoned too. along with the postman who delivers his letters. his immediate family. his pet dog.
    that’s just crazy.

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