Uganda backs down on anti-gay bill: CEN 1.22.10 p 8. January 14, 2010Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of Uganda, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue.
|First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has acceded to the private entreaties of church and world leaders and will block the proposed ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ before his country’s Parliament.
Speaking to members of the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) legislative caucus on Jan 13, the Ugandan leader rejected the controversial bill that would have toughened the East African nation’s sodomy laws.
“I told them that this bill was brought up by a private member and I have not even had time to discuss it with him. It is neither the government nor the NRM Party’s” bill, he told legislators, according to Ugandan press reports.
“This is a foreign policy issue and we have to discuss it in a manner that does not compromise our principles but also takes care of our foreign policy interests,” the president said.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canadian Prime Minister Alan Harper and other world leaders had pressed President Museveni to block the bill, introduced on Oct 14 by MP David Bahati of the NRM. In their annual joint Christmas statement, Uganda’s Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches voiced their public disapproval of a coercive approach to the issue of homosexuality, while top church leaders are understood to have pressed their views upon the president in private meetings.
Bahati’s bill sought to re-write British colonial era vice laws, establishing a legal definition of homosexual acts and provide for their criminalization. Consensual homosexual acts between adults would be subject to penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment, while “aggravated homosexuality”—homosexual relations with a minor or homosexual acts committed by an HIV-positive individual—would be a capital crime or merit life imprisonment.
On Nov 15 President Museveni indicated he was sympathetic to Bahati’s concerns, but signaled he would not endorse the bill as written, telling a youth awards banquet that Uganda “used to have very few homosexuals traditionally. They were not persecuted but were not encouraged either because it was clear that is not how God arranged things to be.”
In November church leaders the Uganda and Britain came under sharp criticism from gay activists for inaction. The Rev. Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) said the bill was “unjust, cruel and can only strike terror in the hearts of LGBT people, their families, friends and supporters”
She added she was “particularly distressed that many Christian groups including Churches in the Anglican Communion in Uganda appear to be supporting the proposals.” The Archbishops of Canterbury and York also came under sharp attack from activists in Britain for not publicly denouncing the bill.
On Nov 6 the Church of Uganda said it was studying the bill and had no official comment, but reiterated its long-standing opposition to the death penalty. Senior Ugandan church leaders told The Church of England Newspaper that their views on the bill would be communicated privately to the president and government leaders.
Ugandan church leaders took umbrage at the suggestion that the only moral way to proceed in response to the legislation was to mount a Western-style publicity campaign, warning that an aggressive campaign of censure and ridicule would be counterproductive in Uganda.
One senior cleric told CEN “the Church of Uganda is not passive about current issues, but we have chosen not to be publicly confrontational. People will work behind the scenes to influence current events and discuss issues with the players rather than go to the newspapers. For example, you will never know when the Archbishop meets with the President. This is the way we Ugandans do things, which is different from the West.”
In the wake of the president’s comments, Bahati told the local media he hoped to redraft the bill to accommodate the president’s concerns while being faithful to Uganda’s social and religious heritage.