Background to the Uganda Bill on aggravated homosexuality

Dec 20, 2015 by

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It is becoming clear that in the lead up to the Anglican Primates’ gathering, further pressure will be brought to bear on African churches and nations on the subject of their laws on sexuality. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have made direct threats from their positions of enormous power to African states that funds for their education and health budgets will be removed if the laws are not changed. To this call is now being added calls from the Episcopal Church, the Church of Canada, the Dean of Christ Church and lobby groups.

At this Christmas season, where would Jesus be found – in the courts of the rich and powerful intimidating and bullying the poor for whom their families and children are their security in countries with no welfare systems, or in the slums of Kabare in Kenya and Kampala in Uganda? Pope Francis has made clear where he stands.

There are many myths and misunderstandings on this topic to which this article addresses itself.

In Nairobi two years ago two of us spent a morning with David Bahati, one of the Ugandan MPs tabling the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB). We questioned him at length on the five paragraphs of the bill, and discovered a) that most Western media reports seriously misrepresented the bill; b) that four of the five paragraphs were uncontroversial, for example provision of welfare counselling for the victims of homosexual abuse, prohibition of gay indoctrination in schools etc; and c) the fifth paragraph was the only controversial one for us: the maintenance, already in law, of homosexual practice as illegal.

Despite repeated attempts to convince him that this last measure was unenforceable, and likely to be misunderstood politically, we did understand his insistence that unless the existing law were maintained, Ugandans would deduce that homosexual practice was now approved. Their concerns could be met not by the fifth paragraph, but by inclusion of disapproval of homosexual practice in the preamble to the bill.

Ugandans discovered that UNICEF, UNESCO and liberal missionaries were teaching the affirmation of same sex relationships to children in schools. They also discovered that teaching materials were being given cheaply or freely that reinforced this approval. LGBT offices funded from the West have been set up in all major cities throughout the country. It is widely believed that bright young people are being encouraged to join LGBT groups by being offered funding for their local tertiary education which is expensive and only generally accessible to the elite. The great irony is that it is this liberal campaign that precipitated the AHB which is now the target of criticism by these same agencies.

In response to the negative ground swell against this activity among the nation’s children, the President commissioned a major scientific study to find out if same-sex attraction is innate. The report came to the conclusion that it was not. Therefore the Government brought in these new laws of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ (see footnote), which specially relate to schools, and also orphanages where these propagandists work as volunteers. The change in the law is that there are prison sentences where children are involved – this is the aggravated homosexuality.  When the death penalty was proposed the church stepped in to stop it.

The following information is pertinent.

  1. An important background is the history of the ‘Ugandan Martyrs’. In the Ugandan church’s cherished memory, the deaths of these saints are considered to be the ‘seeds of the church’. Every year on June 3 the church recalls their martyrdom between 1885 and 1887 of young page boys at the court of the King of Buganda, refusing to be sodomised by the king because of their Christian faith. The Ugandan church knows the price of opposing unjust and powerful people. In the 1970s Archbishop Janani Luwum paid the price for the church’s critique of Idi Amin and his lifestyle. ‘Homosexuality’ has been criminalized in Uganda since the time it became a country in the late 1800’s. Ugandans use the word ‘homosexuality’ differently to the way Westerners use the word. The biggest concern of Ugandans is about ‘predatory’ behavior, especially towards youth.
  1. On the recently passed law itself, the Anglican churches have stood against any violence against people with same-sex attraction. Behind the scenes, the Ugandan Anglican church had a significant moderating influence on the bill. Without the church’s role the forces of violence against same-sex attracted people would have triumphed.
  1. The AHB is actually softer and better for the gay community than the previous laws of Uganda.  All the issues addressed in the AHB are already addressed in existing laws. All the penalties in the amended AHB are less than the penalties in the existing laws. So Ugandans think they are getting a much stronger law because it has a strong name – Anti-Homosexuality Bill. But in fact they are getting laws with weaker provisions. Conversely, The Western world and gay rights groups think they are getting a “draconian” bill, when it is actually better than that which already exists on the books.
  1. The Church of Uganda’s approach has been to commend Parliament for reducing the penalties, as per the recommendations in their 2010 Position Paper, available on the Church of Uganda website – under the ‘About’ tab.
  1. The Church of Uganda’s official position in 2010, just a few months after the bill was originally tabled, was to oppose the bill – not because they weren’t sympathetic with the concerns, but for strategic reasons. Their thinking, we have learnt, was to approach gaps in the existing laws with minor changes so as not to draw undue attention and inadvertently create an environment conducive to a backlash.
  2. Nevertheless, the Bill was passed and, as a result, Uganda has a target on its back. A lot more money is now flowing in from Western gay rights groups. Ugandan gay rights activists get all kinds of global awards for their heroism. None of this would have happened if the AHB had not been tabled. The very thing the government wanted to decrease has increased exponentially.
  1. The COU did also recommend eliminating the death penalty, did not feel qualified to make specific recommendations on sentencing, and so put forward the principle of “proportionality” in sentencing. The original bill also penalized clergy, medical personnel, and counsellors if they didn’t report someone who told them they were struggling with homosexuality. The COU were opposed to that for obvious pastoral reasons. This clause was removed by Parliament and was not in the version presented to the President for his assent.
  1. The COU has been keen to applaud Parliament on their recommendations for amending the AHB in three areas: “The Church of Uganda released its position in 2010 on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. We are pleased that Parliament has taken our concerns seriously and amended the bill accordingly:We recommended eliminating the death penalty;We recommended sentencing guidelines that followed a principle of               proportionality with the existing penal code and also the nature of the act;We recommended upholding the confidentiality privilege of pastoral and counselling relationships”.
  1. The retired Archbishop is on record as saying, “Violence against homosexuals is wrong.”  The current Archbishop stands by that statement. He has also related that parents in Uganda are very concerned to protect their young boys from being preyed upon by paedophiles. The church’s vocation is the protection of the vulnerable. As a church and nation Ugandans know far more about the victims of violence than western liberals.

Chris Sugden  December 20 2015


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