Monday, December 3, 2012

Uganda "Kill the Gays" Bill Removes Death Penalty

The so-called "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda has had some teeth removed this week.  Just last month, Ugandan Speaker Rebecca Kadaga announced that the bill would be passed in December as "A Christmas gift to the Ugandan people."

However, under a mix of largely international and some internal pressure, MP David Bahati announced that the charge of "aggravated homosexuality" will no longer carry the death penalty. This is progress of a kind, but nothing to cheer over. Nothing that was considered criminal in the original law has been legalized, nor has the intent of the bill or the will of the people changed.

Bahati said the bill now focuses on protecting children from gay pornography, banning gay marriage, counseling gays, as well as punishing those who promote gay culture. Jail terms are prescribed for various offenses, he said, offering no details. The most recent version of the bill hasn't been publicly released. 
In 2009, when Bahati first introduced the bill, he charged that homosexuals threatened family values in Uganda and that gays from the West were recruiting poor Ugandan children into gay lifestyles with promises of money and a better life. He said a tough new law was needed because a colonial-era law against sodomy was not strong enough.
(Via Associated Press)
Note the extreme amount of overlap between Bahati's rhetoric and that of the religious right here in America.  The similarity is startling but not surprising, as the Ugandans adopted almost all of it from western Evangelical Christians working in the country.

Both claim that homosexuals "threaten family values" and that gays are "recruiting children into gay lifestyles."  Both seek to ban gay marriage, seek ineffective and harmful reparative therapy for homosexuality, and introduce or maintain sodomy laws.

With the death penalty removed, Ugandan sentiment has only been brought closer in line with the religious right of America, and even then there are influential American evangelical preachers who still seek to kill or eliminate gays from the population in one way or another.  The fact that they cannot hope to implement such a law here is the only discernible difference.

Still, the Ugandan bill does have one unique element that makes it infinitely worse than anything being proposed in America. By "punishing those who promote gay culture," the act of questioning the law or speaking out in favor of gay rights has been warped into an act of sedition.  This affront to free speech serves not only to eliminate a right essential to a well-functioning democracy but also to criminalize all efforts to ever remove this law.  Within this clause lies the power to charge any parliamentarian proposing a repeal of the anti-gay bill with "promoting gay culture."

We should be thankful that the death penalty has been removed from the pending legislation but terrified of the staying power the current language imparts to the law. If this law passes, the bigotry it contains will be nearly intractable.

This is not a battle we can afford to lose in the fight for LGBT rights abroad. If we fail now, Uganda may be locked into a cycle of self sustaining hatred for a generation.

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