Fear of U.S. Marriage Equality Exported to Africa

While LGBTQI people and allies in America enjoyed a hard-fought victory in last month’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, the reaction overseas has been far uglier.

In countries like Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya, same-sex couples and LGBTQI people aren’t fighting for the right to get married, they’re fighting for the right to simply exist; to not be sentenced to life in prison if a neighbor outs them to the authorities. And they’re facing a well-funded, and sophisticated anti-LGBTQI operation heavily influenced by the U.S. Christian Right.

For years, American culture warriors have strategically focused on countries already suspicious of the U.S.—often ones with authoritarian leaders eager to deflect public attention from corruption and economic inequality. Since 2008, I’ve researched how American right-wing evangelical groups have unceasingly attacked and undermined LGBTQI rights and reproductive justice in the name of Christianity.

askbadgeI’ve personally witnessed and filmed American conservative Evangelicals in Kampala, Uganda teach religious and political leaders the myth that Western gays are “recruiting children into homosexuality” on the continent. By recasting LGBTQI people in their countries as creations of the West, these leaders both feed on and fuel existing prejudices. The Supreme Court’s ruling is just another piece of ammunition they can employ in their persecution of LGBTI individuals.

Homosexuality is un-African and un-Christian—so runs the false meme perpetuated by the likes of Pastor Rick Warren, Scott Lively, the American Center for Law and Justice, Lou Engle, and Sharon Slater’s Family Watch International. It’s a claim that has been reflected in the reactions to the Supreme Court ruling from African political and religious leaders who’ve vowed to “defend” their nations from what, they’re being told, will be an invasion of same-sex marriage from the U.S.

From conservative religious leaders to right-wing politicians, the ruling is being defamed as a manifestation of evil that must be contained. In Uganda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Anglican Church of Uganda released a statement saying “I want to assure all Ugandans that we will do everything we can to promote the good moral health of our people and resist such immoral viruses that may try to infiltrate our people.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said the U.S. government is being run by ‘‘perverted Satan-worshipers who insult the great American nation.”

In Kenya, evangelical Bishop Mark Kariuki (who has direct links to Pat Robertson’s  American Center for Law and Justice) challenged Kenyans to “know that the U.S. is not God.” And Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, reportedly called on both Christians and Muslims in Kenya to fight against “dirty things,” saying, “Homosexuality is against the plan of God; God did not create man and woman so that men would marry men and women marry women … we will defend our country Kenya.”

While American conservatives blame president Obama for the advancement of same-sex marriage, many Africans remain conflicted about the president’s visit to Kenya. Some Kenyan leaders are demanding that Obama ignore the plight of LGBTQI people while there, because to acknowledge them would be akin to “promoting homosexuality.”

Kenyan Republican Liberty party leader Vincent Kidala claimed that 5,000 naked men and women will demonstrate against President Obama, and Evangelical Bishop Mark Kariuki warned against Obama using his visit as an opportunity to “talk about the gay issue.” MP Charles Njagagua even threatened to force the American president out of Kenya should he speak in favor of LGBTQI rights during his speech to the National Assembly.

Such sentiments culminated in a public demonstration following the marriage equality ruling, with the crowd chanting a new version of the old “Adam and Steve” slogan, updated as “We do not want Obama and Obama, we do not want Michelle and Michelle. We want Obama and Michelle!”

Rather than heed the threats of culture warriors the president must seize the opportunity to call out the right-wing players from his own country who are causing such catastrophic damage to sexual minorities and women.

If you live in the United States, it’s easy to be lulled into thinking that the battle for broader civil rights for gay people is nearly over. But not only is that far from true here, in many other parts of the world the most ardent American culture warrior’s vitriol is finding a far more receptive audience abroad. As long as they continue to promote their false framework of homosexuality as an attack on Christianity, and the Supreme Court ruling as a supposed precursor to a “gay agenda” being forced on Africa, many Africans will continue to find such propaganda attractive.

Pastor Rick Warren, Scott Lively, the World Congress of Families, Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, Lou Engle, Sharon Slater’s Family Watch, Catholic Human Life International, Alliance Defending Freedom, and many others from the U.S. have spent years working both domestically and globally to influence governments and cultural attitudes against LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom.

As same-sex marriages begin to take place in every state here in the U.S., the Right has to make sense of its failure to “protect” marriage in the U.S. to funders, supporters and admirers in Africa. In this regard, stopping advancement of similar rights in the global South, and Africa in particular, will be critical to its future mission. Americans of conscience have a duty to hold these exporters accountable here at home. If we fail, their dehumanizing rhetoric towards LGBTQI people will continue globally with devastating results.

  • Jeffrey Samuels

    It is very disturbing that these people are fomenting violence against people in foreign countries. They should be taken to task for this in court.

    Equally disturbing is that most of these people are ‘mainstream’ supporters of the Republican party and would more than likely try and pursue these same extreme policies here in the US if given the opportunity.

  • George M Melby

    The USA government would be well within its rights to stop all funding to Kenya through USA ultra conservative churches, to immediately withdraw the tax-exempt status of all denominations that preach and/or export hatred! Not withstanding, cancel all US Passports for these piss ants so they can never return to the USA!

  • Judith Maxfield

    Good article. While I knew this was going on in a very organized way. Its really sick what these “pretend” Christians are doing in the name of Christ. I would like to see us withdraw the tax-exempt status from exporting this hate. But our government is also filled with the haters in Congress. I’d like more ideas of what we individually and collectively can do to stop this brood of vipers here.
    Can someone explain to me what is the Q and I at the end of LGBT….? I’m so turned off to the political news I somehow missed that one.

  • B A Dragon

    Revoke their passports! Tax all churches to make it harder to afford this. They can either come home and deal with people who know better or stay there forever.

  • J bn

    Bro, US is no longer considered as major donar. Check the list in south afrrica before US was #2 donor now is 5 all americans car belonging to US the have statute #5 china is on #3 do you think africa is looking much on US. Nigerian president was looking for support becouse most of kidnapped people are americans not chiness. America is under china, Africa is under china so dont bother think of 80s ideas this is overturned. Africa before was accepting anything from US now its a different story. If americans believe that a man can do period, impregnate another man or a woman impregnate another woman, that is their culture Africans they belive a man can impregnate a woman and a man can not do period. So why forcing people to believe the lies?

  • Burnt Orange

    While you are correct about trouble makers in Africa it should be considered that there was futile ground for these people. Russia, China and the Middle East are hotbeds of anti-gay governments and persecutions.

    The so-called Christian right has little or nothing to do with these places. Africa while important is dwarfed by the Middle East and Muslims when it comes to violence against LGBTQI communities. Who if anyone from the West is formenting anti-gay activities in those areas?

    Pres. Obama while an ally in the U.S. (an easy lift) is insipid and silent when it comes to Muslims and foreign policy. While Iran actually imprisons and often kills gays he “does business with them” with little or no pushback on human rights gay or otherwise.

  • NancyP

    Americans do not believe that, even in in vitro assisted reproductive technology (aka “test tube babies”) that 2 male’s germ cells (sperm) can fertilize each other without an ovum being involved. And yes, I know that China is the real imperial colonizer of Africa in the 21st century, and that the Chinese are by and large just as racist towards Africans as Americans can be.

  • NancyP

    There needs to be some transparency about how much out-of-country (mostly US) “missions” anti-LGBT money is being diverted to politicians’ personal or campaign accounts. Someone’s on the take – that’s politics in every country. In the USA, we have (likely ineffective) laws prohibiting foreign non-citizens from giving to the campaign funds of US politicians.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Why don’t you tell us how you REALLY feel, George! … liberal pastor here too, in small town parish ministry … are you Anglican? George is a very Anglican/Episcopal name 😉

  • Kwame

    Why are religious advocates always the targets of so-called anti-homosexual sentiments in Africa? I grew up in a traditional household and learned about ‘christ’ when I came to the U.S. as a child. Needless to say, the vast majority of the cultural communities found in (albeit, eroding) pockets of Africa are ‘about family’; and family is defined by the existence of children in a household.

    The importance of having children determined one’s claim to be noted as a member in good standing. In this case, the ‘concept’ of a homosexual relationship is seen an estranged and dysfunctional concept since no offspring can occur. No matter how one spins the reality of the situation, the rejection of same-sex relationships is not an offshoot of religious indoctrination and zealotry-although many use biblical text to refute such; like how one uses the ‘commandments’ to condemn anti-social behavior-it predates foreign influence. The homosexual ‘lifestyle’ simply does not fit the indigenous African cultural paradigm. As a matter of fact, the perversion seeped via western religion.

    The fact that the writer of this article is an Anglican priest is one case in point. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    The acceptance of homosexuality as a viable aspect of African cultural existence is a fabrication and will only work to destroy the fiber of African society. I have a better idea: Why doesn’t the west, which finds homosexuality acceptable, just give free, and automatic, citizenship to all homosexuals who feel ‘persecuted’ in their country?

    A win-win for everybody.