Ugandan Bishops Push Notorious Anti-Gay Bill

The Uganda Joint Christian Council, which includes Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox bishops, has called on parliament to move the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill forward. According to the Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor:

Top religious leaders from across the country have asked Parliament to speed-up the process of enacting the Anti-Homosexuality law to prevent what they called “an attack on the Bible and the institution of marriage.”

Speaking after their recent annual conference organised by the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), an ecumenical body which brings together the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches, the bishops resolved that the parliamentary committee on Gender should be tasked to engage the House on the Bill which is now at committee level.

“We also ask the Education committee to engage the Ministry of Education on the issue of incorporating a topic on human sexuality in the curricula of our schools and institutions of learning,” the resolutions signed by archbishops Henry Luke Orombi, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga and Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga, indicated.

The clerics also appealed to all the churches in the country “to remain steadfast in opposing the phenomena of homosexuality, lesbianism and same-sex union.”

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, known by many as the “kill-the-gays bill,” is one of the most notorious pieces of legislation in the world. It is backed by First Lady Janet Museveni and legislators with close ties to the American religious right. The bill, which emerged after a 2009 conference in which American evangelicals railed against the threats posed by homosexuality, includes draconian penalties, including death and life imprisonment, and has generated intense scrutiny. International pressure, including opposition from the U.S. State Department, has helped prevent the legislation from actually being voted on in Parliament.

The reported support for the bill from the Uganda Joint Christian Council is especially noteworthy since Roman Catholic Bishop of Uganda Cyprian Lwanga previously denounced the bill’s death penalty and imprisonment provisions as contrary to “a Christian caring approach to this issue,” though he also said “We, the Catholic Bishops of Uganda, appreciate and applaud the Government’s effort to protect the traditional family and its values.” According to Box Turtle Bulletin, which has followed the Ugandan situation closely,

On December 10, 2009, the Vatican released a statement which opposing “all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons,” particularly “the murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State.” The statement didn’t reference Uganda by name, but that last statement was taken as an oblique reference to the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Shortly before Christmas Day that year, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Uganda, Cyprian Lwanga, denounced the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill in his annual Christmas message from Rubaga Cathedral. That message was broadcast over several Ugandan television channels.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was shelved last year, but reintroduced this February by its sponsor, Member of Parliament David Bahati (the same month the government shut down a conference of LGBT activists). Some news reports at the time said the death penalty had been removed from the bill. But Warren Throckmorton noted that the death penalty in fact remained.

BBC report quoted Bahati saying the original bill was reintroduced for procedural reasons, and that the death penalty would be removed in committee. “However,” notes a commentary on Care2.com, “readers familiar with the legislation’s history will know that such assurances have been made before only for the bill to go to the voting stage intact and without the death sentence deleted.”

Also still in the bill:

  • A 7-year jail sentence for consenting adults who have gay sex;
  • A life sentence for people in same-sex marriages;
  • Extradition and prosecution of LGBT Ugandans living abroad;
  • The death penalty for adults who have gay sex with minors or people with disabilities, consensual or no, or who communicate HIV via gay sex, regardless of condom usage or consent;
  • Jail for anyone who doesn’t report suspected gay people within 24 hours;
  • A ban on the “promotion” of homosexuality so open-ended that it would endanger HIV/AIDS treatment and sexual health clinics in the country and could effectively exclude gay people from petitioning the courts by making those representing them liable for criminal action;
  • A mandate to break all ties with international commitments and laws opposing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

The Uganda Joint Christian Council says on its website that it works “to build a society that harmoniously co-exists and promotes, protects, respects and upholds human dignity.”

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.