Status of Uganda Anti-Gay Bill Unclear; U.S. Religious Right Support Isn’t

Human rights activists have been on high alert for the return of Uganda’s infamous anti-gay bill ever since the speaker of the parliament promised its passage before the end of the year as a “Christmas gift” to Ugandans. Reports began circulating late last week that the bill had moved through a parliamentary committee, and the BBC reported that the bill’s death penalty provisions have been dropped, something that has falsely been promised by the bill’s backers in the past.

News of movement was greeted with excitement among religious right leaders. American anti-gay extremist Scott Lively, a catalyst and consistent cheerleader for the bill, called its reported progress “a huge blessing for Uganda” and said that “Museveni is calmly and confidently setting the course of his nation by the guidance of the Bible, in a way that also shows great courage and resolve.” The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer also praised the bill.

But on Tuesday, according to the Washington Blade, the Obama administration disputed reports that the committee in question had either dropped the death penalty provisions or moved the bill forward. On Wednesday, Ugandan activists and spokespersons for All Out, an international equality organization, said that while some members of parliament have claimed that the death penalty provision has been removed, the only version of the bill available to the public still contains that language. They say the bill could come up for a vote as early as next week.

It’s worth noting that even if the death penalty provisions are ultimately dropped, the bill would still jail for life those advocating for equality or even offering shelter to a gay person, language that is vague and broad enough to allow leaders to use the bill for broader purposes of political repression. For a reminder of just how sweeping the bill is, see Jim Burroway’s section-by-section analysis at Box Turtle Bulletin.

At the same time attention was re-focusing on the anti-gay bill, right-wing American leaders began calling attention to, and lavishing praise on, President Yoweri Museveni’s prayer of national atonement (delivered in October), which claimed that the nation is “at the threshold of a new dispensation.” With an emphasis on overcoming demonic influences like witchcraft and dedicating the nation to God it sounded a lot like prayers given at American events sponsored by religious right organizations and groups affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation:

We want to dedicate this nation to you so that you will be our God and guide. We want Uganda to be known as a nation that fears God and as a nation whose foundations are firmly rooted in righteousness and justice to fulfill what the Bible says in Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation, whose God is the Lord. A people you have chosen as your own.

I renounce all the evil foundations and covenants that were laid in idolatry and witchcraft. I renounce all the satanic influence on this nation. And I hereby covenant Uganda to you, to walk in your ways and experience all your blessings forever.

Museveni and his wife, who have long ties to the NAR, the International Transformation Network, and evangelist Ed Silvoso, have in fact been using similar language since at least the turn of the millennium when they and religious leaders covenanted the nation to God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ for 1,000 years. 

A recent article from the far right WND on Museveni’s prayer began circulating among ecstatic conservative evangelicals, while an email from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council cheered Museveni and called it “an inspirational moment for the nation, which has stood—often alone—for traditional values, abstinence, and families despite tremendous pressure from the West.” Perkins also quotes Scott Lively, who called the prayer “a model for all Christian leaders in the world.” 

State Department spokesperson Nicole Thompson told the Blade that the Obama administration continues to express its opposition to the bill, particularly to its implications for the fight against HIV/AIDS:

“The United States shares the concerns of several members of Uganda’s civil society and the Ugandan government’s own human rights commission, which determined the anti-homosexuality bill violates both Uganda’s constitution and its obligations under international law,” Thompson said. “Beyond that, we have serious concerns about the negative impact of the bill on public health interests in Uganda, including our concerns that it would undercut Uganda’s ability to fight HIV/AIDS infection and the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

Indeed, pastors affiliated with the transformation movement have claimed hundreds of miracle healings from HIV and AIDS. First lady Janet Museveni has had a hand in promoting abstinence and virginity over condom use, which has contributed to a reversal in Uganda’s struggle against HIV, which is on the rise in Uganda, a situation the New York Times recently described as “a success story [come] undone.” 

Many religious right leaders who’ve been ecstatic about the part of Museveni’s prayer committing the nation of Uganda to following a particular interpretation of biblical principles, have taken less note of a section of the prayer that would seem to fly in the face of the draconian anti-gay bill: “Help us to see that we are all your children, children of the same Father. Help us to love and respect one another and to appreciate unity in diversity.” That, unfortunately, does not seem to be on the parliamentary agenda this month.