For several long months, criticism from (mostly US) gay groups and bloggers directed at Uganda’s hostile legislation appeared to be hopeless, as church and mainstream rights groups remained silent, and the Ugandan bigots garnered high -profile support from some American evangelical church groups. Instead of halting, the hate started to spread, as Rwanda also announced plans for similar legislation. Gradually though, the message seemed to sink in that hate is not Christian. Slowly, cautiously and ambivalently, various church groups, human rights groups, and various diplomatic representatives put across the message that executing homosexuals is way outside the bounds of global polite society. As the tide of opinion started to shift, so others became more comfortable speaking up. Now, over the last few days, it looks as though the proposed bill is doomed, as opposition mounts inside and outside the party.
- The Catholic Archbishop has condemned the proposed death penalty – even as he “welcomed” governments attempts to protect the “traditional family”. (Which tradition? The Biblical patriarchal family, where women were treated as the property of fathers or husbands? African polygamy? or the modern western model?).
- The Ugandan born Archbishop of York, who shamefully refused to speak up for a long time, has finally done so and criticized the bill
- The Ugandan President has said he opposes the death penalty clause, and will veto the bill
- The Ugandan opposition has slammed the bill.
- The bill itself has now been “softened” by the government
We should all note here the sterling contribution of Box Turtle bulletin, which has been assiduous in keeping all aspects of this issue in front of us from the start, from the proposed legislation itself, to the complicity of the US evangelicals who egged them on. Well done, BTB!
The gathering opposition is reaping benefits elsewhere, too.
- Rwanda has withdrawn its own proposed legislation
- Lithuania, which had passed legislation back in July outlawing the dissemination of information “promoting” homosexuality, has softened the legislation.
The case of Lithuania is a useful reminder that oppressive legislation is not by any means unique to the developing, non-Western world: quite the reverse. In spite of the claims by Uganda, Zimbabwe and other countries that “homosexuality” was introduced by the colonial powers, history shows the exact opposite is true. What the colonial powers introduce was not homosexual practices, but homosexual repression – often in societies where such practices were previously completely acceptable and respectable. In Uganda, the story of the Ugandan Martyrs shows how missionaries interfered to end homosexual practice within the Royal Court, later resulting in colonial legislation. (Elsewhere in Africa, many other local societies accepted homoerotic relationships and even forms of same-sex unions.) The legislation recently overturned by the Indian courts was of colonial introduction.
Most horrifying of all, was the record in Latin America. Here, the colonial invaders found a wide range of responses to same gender relationships between the different indigenous societies: proscribed in some, celebrated in others. The invading armies however were implacably opposed to “sodomy”, and responded as they did back in Spain, under the guidance of the infamous Spanish Inquisition: by executing the offenders. This was usually, as in Europe, by burning, but in one infamous example from Panama, the Spanish commander Balboa had forty “sodomites” from the royal court “given to his dogs for prey”.
Louis Crompton, in “Homosexuality and Civilization“, observes:
“Spanish authority in the New World suppressed human sacrifices to native deities but instituted its own blood sacrifices to religious amd sexual orthodoxy. Observing these holocausts, Protestant Europe looked with horror on the “Black Legend” of Spanish cruelty in the Americas but accepted as a matter of course the burning of sodomites sanctioned by its own Biblical traditions.”
Is it any surprise that the major Western churches have been so slow to respond appropriately to the proposed death penalty in African countries, when these countries are doing no more than follow the even more horrifying examples of the former colonial masters at the behest of the Christian churches (both Catholic and Protestant) – an example the churches have still never apologized for?
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