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 firstname.lastname@example.org