Uganda’s proposed anti-gay death penalty law demands comment

According to Reuters, Uganda’s parliament has a serious chance of passing the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009, a proposed law expanding the criminal punishment for homosexuality. In Uganda, homosexuality is a crime which already carries a life sentence in many cases.

The bill includes, among other measures, a death penalty for “repeat offenders,” and charges three year prison terms for parents, teachers or landlords who fail to denounce homosexuals within 24 hours of learning their sexual preference.

Yakov Smirnoff once joked, “We have no gay people in Russia – there are homosexuals but they are not allowed to be gay about it. The punishment is seven years in prison with other men, and there is a three year waiting list for that.”

In all seriousness, there’s little practical social benefit to this law, which justifies itself by claiming to protect heterosexual families from gays corrupting and converting children to their lifestyle.

Personally, the only parts of the law I feel protect children are the harsh measures against engaging in or touching with the intention of homosexual acts with children, in which case I believe the death penalty should be used against repeat offenders.

But killing gay adults for practicing their sexuality with loving, consensual partners to me is cruel beyond words. I think it’s pathetic that religious leaders and their followers have largely been silent on this issue.

Religions are supposed to have answers

National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen Jr. said the bill called for Catholics to “take a stand” but never said for which side, and explained the law’s rationale by saying, “many Africans regard homosexuality as a western aberration.”

My mom’s ancestors were Welsh, so she had me baptized American Episcopalian. I’m used to hearing my religious heritage dismissed by Catholics. We differ on morality, interpretation of scripture and philosophy of hierarchy, among other things.

But speaking as a straight male, the ways Catholics discuss and respond to gay people has never made me want to convert. You can feel any way you want about sex, but everyone needs love. Most importantly, they are actually really good at raising adopted children that straight families couldn’t take care of.

As I understand it, the Catholic Church used to believe homosexuality was a choice that could be prayed away or changed. In the 1970s, the leadership decided that because gays were made in the image of God, they could still be saved if they remained celibate and lived alone their entire lives. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI declared the priesthood ineligible for anyone who even supported “the so-called ‘gay culture.'”

Catholic catechism 2320 says that the murder of a human being is contrary to the dignity of the person and the holiness of the creator. So, Catholics are supposed to be against supporting homosexual behavior, but are also supposed to be against killing people or imprisoning straight people for not snitching on gay relatives or associates.

Ugandan Catholic officials seem generally compliant with the proposed law, and the Vatican has not yet issued a statement to my knowledge.

Still waiting on a verdict

Uganda is roughly 40 percent Catholic and has strong St. Thomas ties. The Rev. Dennis Dease builds medical clinics there and brings students to study here. Disagreements on some issues aside, I have tremendous personal respect for Dease and think these efforts rank among his noblest accomplishments.

Because Uganda is likely to be a Catholic powerhouse over the coming decades, I expected to see more lay Catholics publicly endorsing or denouncing the proposed law, because their leadership hasn’t and this law would affect the lives of many Catholics in poverty.

Personally, I think it’s disgraceful that Uganda’s Anglican Church has not spoken out against it. I’ve seen firsthand that gay people, as well as any kind of woman, make excellent clergy.

But our many churches are used to disagreeing and doing their own thing. American Episcopal clergy were free to emigrate to become ordained in Uganda in protest of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson’s appointment and at least 30 did.

Don’t get me wrong, Uganda is a sovereign country free to make and enforce its own laws. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. Influential religious leaders – this responsibility applies to you especially.

This bill appears likely to pass regardless, it is what it is. But I haven’t heard the Catholic side yet, and I think it demands comment.

Zack Thielke can be reached at

8 Replies to “Uganda’s proposed anti-gay death penalty law demands comment”

  1. The bill also calls for the death penalty for everyone convicted of homosexuality who is also HIV poitive. Can I just say how disturbed I am that Rick Warren refused to condemn the bill?When asked point blank about it, he said he’s not here to take sides. Kudos to Sweden though.

  2. I agree when you say that this issue should be commented upon by “the Catholic side”. As a cradle Catholic and a seminarian at UST, I feel that, although I am definitely not the authority on the topic, I have enough of a grasp of Church teaching to comment from a Catholic viewpoint. The Catholic Church does not support or condone homosexuality in any way; however, neither does she support any aspects of the culture of death. Here, though, I can let the Church speak for herself: “[those with homosexual tendencies] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2358). Reading this, it should be apparent what the Catholic Church’s view on the topic is. And, as a postscript, your claim that “gay people, as well as any kind of woman, make excellent clergy” is an unnecessary point to be raised in your article; such a sentiment, it seems, would require an entirely new article to be properly addressed.

  3. Mr. Thielke, you wrote a good piece that calls on leaders of the Catholic Church to take a stand on a very controversial and important issue for human rights. Since UST has connections to Catholic communities in Uganda, it puts faith leaders on campus in an interesting position to take a stand or open a dialogue with Ugandan Catholics.

    However, there is one part of your piece I take issue with and that is the paragraph regarding the only beneficial parts of this bill, since it can “protect children.” Pederasty is not an issue of homosexuality, but heterosexual and homosexual adults are both capable of committing these horrible crimes against children. I am, in no way, saying sexual crimes against children are okay, but it is a bit disconcerting to see someone finding something positive in this discriminatory bill.

  4. Mr. Thielke,
    I am neither Catholic nor a supporter of this bill, but i feel this should be mentioned, in defense, of the Ugandan Catholics. Speaking out publicly against the bill could put them in a very compromising position should the bill ever become a law. And though their open disapproval may be a necissary factor to prevent this potential law, the risks (accusations and even legal persecution for being homosexual) of this could be astounding should the bill pass. I agree that more general disapproval should be spoken for such a bill, but costs for this to happen inside the country of Uganda by Ugandans could be catastrophic.

  5. What is even more disturbing about this proposed anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda is the misconception that HIV/AIDS exists only for LGBTQ individuals.  If you read the bill, you will notice that in it targets anyone who tests positive for HIV.  The notion that HIV/AIDS is solely secluded to a small population of people is just impossible when you compare the actual number of people infected versus the actual number of people who identify as LGBT.

    Here’s a couple of articles that have been helpful for more info: 

    Seattle PI


    Anti-Homosexual Bill in Uganda

  6. I am citizen of Uganda, and proud to be Ugandan, but this bill sickens me, and for the first time, I don’t feel proud of what my fellow country men are about to do. I was born in Uganda and spent most of my life there until I was 18, when I moved to the U.S, and looking back at who I was then, I would probably be in the same shoes of the people supporting this bill, not the death penalty. I went to a single sex school in Uganda and the idea of a gay person was not something one could even mention in public, or else be lynched by the mob. One could not even hug another male student for fear of being thought of as gay. Therefore I grew up a very homophobic person, and so did a lot of friends that I went to school with. Now this is even true about most people in Uganda, the level of homophobia is so huge, that it is next to imposible to try and explain to someone over there that gay people deserve the same rights as we all do get as straight people. The more time I have spent here, the better I have become at this issue, atleast I would like to think so. I went from being so homophobic, to not caring, to now advocating for their rights as equal human beings. Its a huge battle constantly arguing with my friends about these issues, trying to make them understand.

  7. I hope the bill fails, but when all the religious people are in support of it, I can’t see that happening. Most of the catholic priests are supporting this bill, same goes for the Anglicans, and even the Muslims are all for this bill, so I can’t see how this is even going to fail, unless a lot of pressure is put on the religious leaders and politicians. I hope my fellow country men learn that giving the gay community their deserved rights does not affect how their children will grow up.

  8. The Ugandan Catholic community needs to get its act together on this. Like, asap. CCC 2358 (quoted by Mr. Charley above) is quite explicit, and it’s not as if the Church is going to suffer a devastating violent backlash in a country that’s 40% Catholic just for standing up and saying, “Killing homosexuals is, to say the least, incredibly excessive and unjust.” Even if they were, the Gospel calls them to courage in the face of persecution. Period. But, sadly, Catholics are no less prone to hatred and cowardice than anyone else, and this bill appears to be a great example of that.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Thielke continues to shed more smoke than light on… well, on much of anything. His caricature of Catholic teaching is hilarious as ever, and his use of this abominable bill as political cover to lodge a few more grenades at those danged sex-hatin’ women-oppresin’ Neaderthal Catholics falls just this side of reprehensible. Two points for sniping us on the completely irrelevant issue of women’s ordination.

    I see we have a character limit for comments now! What? Too much student engagement happening for you to keep a handle on it, TommieMedia? At least it’s a much more generous limit than YouTube’s brutal character caps, and, for that, at least, I am halfway…

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