In Britain in the eighteenth century there were literally hundreds of crimes that were punishable by death. The so-called ‘Bloody Code’ included over two hundred felonies for which people could be executed, including treason, arson, murder, rape, burglary, robbery, animal theft, the concealment of effects by bankrupts, and the malicious maiming of cattle.
As time went by, however, there was a gradual change of opinion about what constituted appropriate punishment for these various crimes. By the middle of the twentieth century, in most civilised countries, the only crimes that remained punishable by execution were murder and treason. And by the end of the twentieth century most civilised countries had abandoned capital punishment altogether.
However, it seems that Uganda is going in the opposite direction. Uganda is in the process of deciding to expand the list of crimes punishable by death. What is the heinous crime they are targetting, you ask? Is it drug trafficking, gang rape, or treason against the state?
No, it is ‘aggravated homosexuality’. What is ‘aggravated homosexuality?’ Apparently it is engaging in homosexual sex when you are HIV positive, or when your partner has a disability, or is under the age of 17.
Now, granted, having sex with anyone (not just someone of the same sex) when you are HIV positive is probably not a good thing (especially when you don’t tell your partner). But the death penalty? Isn’t that rather extreme?
Uganda has some pretty draconian laws against homosexuals already, but this proposed ‘Anti-Homosexuality Law’ would strengthen them even more. Committing homosexual acts is already punishable with life imprisonment in Uganda. This proposed bill expands the definition of ‘homosexual acts’ to include ‘merely touching another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality’. Anybody who ‘aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality’ or anybody who keeps a house or room for the purpose of homosexuality would be liable to seven years in prison.
The bill also proposes harsh sentences for people ‘promoting homosexuality’; they face a stiff fine and a prison sentence of five to seven years. ‘Where the offender is a business or NGO, its certificate of registration will be cancelled and the director will be liable to seven years in prison’. Failure to disclose the offence, if you find out about it, within twenty four hours , would make you liable to a stiff fine or up to three years in prison.
Haute Haiku, writing on Global Voices Online, shares that, “The bill further prohibits adoption by gay couples; any person who aids, promotes, counsels any acts of homosexuality in any way will face up to seven years imprisonment, or risk a fine…” These sorts of sympathizers include friends (who are required to “report” when a gay person comes out to them within 24 hours), NGOs that offer services to gay Ugandans along the lines of HIV prevention, producers and/or distributors of materials geared towards gay Ugandans and – yes – bloggers.
As most of my readers will know, I write as a person who has a fairly traditional view of sex, marriage, and homosexuality. However, I’m also glad to number gay and lesbian people among my friends and immediate family members, and I feel compelled to speak up against this proposed law (which, by the way, apparently is almost certain to be passed). Whatever view you take of the morality of homosexual acts, is it any business of the government? And are not these penalties blowing things out of all proportion? We’re not talking about drug lords, arsonists, gang rapists and murderers here! We’re talking about people whose crime is simply that they understand themselves to be wired to love people of the same sex.
Why are gay people seen as such a threat in Uganda? The bill states that its purpose is to protect the traditional family. How are gay people a threat to the traditional family? My daughter recently married her same-sex partner. I can assure you that my wife and I do not feel our marriage to be in any way under threat because of hers! Furthermore, I would suggest that if we want to find out what is threatening the traditional family we ought to look a little closer to home: having sex before you are married, living common law before marriage, or being the child of divorced parents are all factors that statistically increase your chances of going through a divorce yourself. Heterosexual people need to take a long hard look in the mirror before they blame gay people for the demise of the traditional family. We were doing that to ourselves long before anyone dared raise the question of gay marriage in public!
Where is the Christian Church on this issue? Where is the Anglican Church in Uganda? It has a long history of cheering for the legalised repression of gay people in Uganda. And yet their bishops vote for Lambeth Resolution 1.10 in 1998, which, while accepting the traditional view that homosexual acts are sinful, also
- recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
- while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
African bishops have loudly condemned American, Canadian and British Anglicans for violating Lambeth 1.10. Surely it’s time for the Anglican Communion as a whole to stand up and call our Ugandan brothers and sisters to account. Why are they supporting these draconian anti-gay laws in Uganda? Why aren’t they ‘condemning irrational fear of homosexuals’?
All this week the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican blogosphere, has been consumed by the news that Pope Benedict is going to make it easier for a small group of conservative Anglicans to become Roman Catholics. Surely this is a prime example of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! It’s time for us all to speak out against this legalised persecution of gay and lesbian people in Uganda, and to do so in the name of Jesus. I’m glad to add my voice to this cause, and to urge others (especially those who, like myself, take a traditional view on this issue) to do so as well.