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.