Killing gays may not be helpful

As reported in a previous post, Uganda is currently considering a bill that would impose the death penalty or life sentences on homosexuals. Furthermore, the proposed bill criminalises those who do not report a suspected gay person within 24 hours, and will most likely also have the effect of dissuading health care professionals in Uganda from assisting anyone who is gay – as well as dissuading gay people from seeking treatment, seeing as outing yourself as gay could land you in jail.  It’s worth reading this story on NPR to see the extent to which American Evangelical Christians are prepared to foment hatred and prejudice in order to buttress their support bases in the 3rd World – after all, surely all those folk in Africa will one day be able to afford to buy their sermons on DVD?

But before we get to that set of oxygen-thieves, let’s hear from the person who drafted the bill, first-term lawmaker David Bahati:

“This is a defining bill for our country, for our generation. You are either anti-homosexual or you’re for homosexuals, because there’s no middle point. Anybody who does not believe that homosexuality is a crime is a sympathizer,” Bahati says.

It is the first bill Bahati has ever written, and he calls it a “very wonderful piece of legislation.” He says he can’t imagine a Uganda in which gay people live freely, because the possibility is too horrible to consider. And he says if Western aid to Uganda hinges on gay rights, then the West can keep its money. His bill would impose the death penalty on adults who have gay sex with minors, or who spread HIV through gay sex. And it would jail anyone who fails to report gay activity to police within 24 hours.

And what if his brother were engaging in homosexual activity?

“I’d arrest him myself and take him to the police … because it’s bad for society,” Bahati says.

One of those representing Jesus in this matter is Scott Lively, president of “Defend The Family International”. Homosexuality is clearly an issue for him – how can it not be, seeing as it apparently caused the Holocaust? In March of 2009, Lively was a key speaker at a conference in Kampala on how to turn gay people straight, and then seems to have become a great source of comfort and inspiration for Mr Bahati after addressing the Ugandan parliament on the issue, a few months prior to the tabling of legislation calling for the execution of those who engage in certain homosexual acts.

“The gay movement is an evil institution,” he told Uganda’s Family Life Network. “The goal of the gay movement is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”

“Male homosexuality has historically been, not adult to adult; it’s been adult to teenager,” he said. “It’s called pederasty — adults sodomizing teenage boys.”

One could easily criminalize pederasty without bundling other stuff you don’t like into your legislation. Although, as a believer, I’m not sure what your exact warrant for doing so would be – Lively’s Bible is not really clear on the matter of sex with kids, and Mohammed was apparently getting it on with the 9 year-old A’isha (not pederasty exactly, but surely in the same moral universe).

But of course pederasty is not the only problem cited by Lively. There is also the “evil” undermining of the marriage-based society, so as to weaken it enough that it can be replaced by a “culture of sexual promiscuity”. Lively and his ilk (take a bow, Stephen Langa, Rick Warren, Errol Naidoo, and the rest of you) are of course free to hold whatever beliefs they like, and to try to persuade the rest of us to join them in rolling back all sorts of hard-won social liberties. But surely they should not, according to self-professed values such as charity, love, and forgiveness, do so in ways that might lead to persecution of and violence against people you’re supposed to be leading to salvation?

As the NPR story reports:

Jim Naughton, a former canon in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., says their message plays one way in the U.S., but differently in a place like Uganda. And they should have known.

“If you go to countries where there’s already a great deal of suspicion and maybe animosity towards homosexuals, and begin to tell people there, ‘Well, actually these people are child abusers, they’re coming for their children, that they’re the scourge that is being deposited on you by the secular West,’ you’re gonna get a backlash.” Naughton says it’s like “showing up in rooms filled with gasoline, and throwing lighted matches around and saying, ‘Well, I never intended fire .‘ “

While Lively has claimed that he thinks the bill goes too far in calling for the death penalty, and Rick Warren has also (after thinking about it for a few months) now condemned the bill, it remains the case that people like Lively and Warren are the inspiration for the lawmakers in Uganda. It is their Conservative Evangelical vision of the perfect world that motivates David Bahati‘s belief that he can change the world: “Once this bill passes through, you’re going to see country by country learning from this, continent by continent. It’s a crucial time and a crucial bill not only in Uganda but in the world”.

The vision itself – of a world in which your liberties are sacrificed in the name of superstition – is morally repugnant, and the manner of going about realising it doubly so, in that Lively is complicit in the incitement of hatred and violence. And while this particular bill may be defeated (Uganda’s president wants it withdrawn, as he believes it to be harming Uganda’s reputation abroad), we should not forget that hatemongering in Jesus’ name is no different from any other sort of hatemongering – and we should remember who to blame if terrible (and institutionalised) things start happening to homosexuals in Uganda or elsewhere in Africa. Luckily, at least one lawmaker in Uganda is on the side of justice – Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo, who says that the death sentence provision may be dropped. She told Reuters that

the revised law would now probably limit the maximum penalty for offenders to life in prison rather than execution.

“There have been a lot of discussions in government…regarding the proposed law, but we now think a life sentence could be better because it gives room for offenders to be rehabilitated,” he said in an interview.

“Killing them might not be helpful.”

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.