I almost feel sorry for David Bahati. Almost.
The Ugandan Parliament member appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show this week to defend his “kill the gays” bill.
Maddow set up the segment by recounting America’s long slide down the slippery slope of anti-gay rhetoric pushed by such religious right figures as Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell. The thrust of the argument made against gays and lesbians in this country is that “they do not reproduce, so they must recruit.”
That argument against gay and lesbian rights has been quashed by medical and psychological professionals who have long studied the issue and found that no such thing happens. Gays and lesbians are who they are and no one “recruits” them to a “lifestyle.” But, good propaganda never dies—it simply moves to a new location when it’s no longer welcome in its old home.
David Bahati channeled Anita Bryant as he patiently answered Maddow’s probing questions, insisting that there is a “huge problem” in Uganda from foreigners who are spending money to “recruit” children into homosexuality. He says his bill, that includes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” is simply a way to “protect the children” from those recruiters. He also insisted, like anti-gay propagandists before him, that homosexuality is a “learned behavior that can be unlearned.” His rationale is based, not on facts, but religion.
“We believe that man was created to marry woman and that is the purpose for which God created us. The purpose for procreation, and that’s the higher purpose we believe in. Children should not be recruited into something they don’t believe in. […] I am not in a hate campaign. I do not hate gays. I love them but at the same time I must protect children who are being recruited into this practice.”
Bahati has claimed that people outside Uganda are recruiting school children to be gay by paying them. Yet despite promising to send Maddow video proof of this practice she has yet to receive a single piece of evidence. While Maddow did an excellent job of asking Bahati tough questions, it was clear that he had little but his own propaganda to go on—as well as a bit of a persecution complex. At one bizarre moment, after Maddow asked about the fate of gays and lesbians in the country should the bill pass he told her that he was “not a Hitler, Saddam Hussein, or Idi Amin.”
“I’m just a simple young man who lost both parents at the age of three years, grew up as an orphan, I have a passion for children and this is what is really motivating me. I am a God fearing person. I want to make sure this law is consistent with God’s law.”
Perhaps he doesn’t know what gays and lesbians will do if this bill becomes law, and perhaps he doesn’t care, but it’s clear he’s tired of being attacked for supporting something he sees as “God’s law.” He even took issue with Maddow when she referred to the death penalty part of the bill as “execution” but later continued to clearly advocate for such a measure:
“God’s law is always clear that the wages of sin is death whether that is implemented through legislation like mine or by a mechanism of a human being whatever happen is the end result that we need to turn to God if we have sinned.”
What makes me almost sorry for Bahati is how sincerely he believes his own propaganda, even pleading at one point with Maddow for people outside of Uganda to respect their laws and opinions just as they respect the laws and opinions of others.
But, when lives are on the line, and lies are being told to terrorize and perhaps euthanize an entire minority within a country, the law and opinions of the country pursuing such actions cannot simply be “respected.” This is what Bahati doesn’t understand. He’s proposing a law that has the potential to put many people to death—and even if that clause is removed, as Bahati says he’s open to—it would still sentence many people to life in prison for something that they simply are, not that they were “recruited” into. In addition, how does one prove that a person is engaged in homosexuality other than catching them in the act? It seems that the law could be abused further and used to imprison those falsely accused.
There is no way to “respect” that kind of law or opinion, no matter how sincere the motivation behind it. That doesn’t mean that Bahati should be attacked as promoting hatred for gay people. He sincerely does not see his actions as motivated by hatred; and to use my dad’s old phrase, “He’s sincere, but he’s sincerely wrong.” He has been so blinded by propaganda against gays and lesbians that he is unable to see any other side. Many religious right figures in the U.S., including The Call’s Lou Engle and former American Family Association leader Scott Lively, who have traveled to Uganda to fan the anti-gay flames, have convinced people like Bahati that they are doing God’s work, even if it means that people will die.
What gives me hope is that, unlike homosexuality, bigotry is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.