After weeks of pressure from around the world, Ugandan politicians are reported to be considering an amendment to their proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This would remove the use of the death penalty and possibly even life imprisonment.
However, this is unlikely to satisfy the Bill’s critics, who insist that it would still be draconian, even with such amendments.
They point out that it would allow the imprisonment of anyone in authority – such as a teacher, priest or minister of religion – who knew of an instance of homosexuality but failed to report it.
While the campaign against the Bill has achieved significant support from Christians, there are fears that the removal of the death penalty clause would make churches in Uganda more likely to support the legislation.
The Anglican Church in Uganda has so far been divided on the Bill. Last week, Canon Gideon Byamugisha condemned the proposals as “state-sponsored genocide against a specific community of Ugandans”. However, his fellow Ugandan Anglican, Bishop Joseph Abura, has welcomed the Bill, describing its opponents as “lovers of evil”.
In its original form, the Bill sets down life imprisonment as the punishment for anyone who “stimulates the sexual organs” of someone of the same sex. The death penalty would be used if the “offender” were HIV positive, or if his/her sexual partner were disabled or aged under 18.
However, Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, is reported to have said that the Bill will be amended to allow a more “refined” set of punishments. There has been media speculation that this could involve enforced 'therapy' to 'cure' people of their sexual orientation.
Campaigns against the Bill have been led by Sexual Minorities Uganda. The Bill has also been criticised around the globe by NGOs, faith groups and human rights campaigners. Sweden has threatened to cut aid to Uganda and there have been calls for the country to be thrown out of the Commonwealth.
In the last few days, opposition to the Bill has intensified. Marking international Human Rights Day today (10 December), crowds protested outside Ugandan embassies around the world.
Earlier this week, Christian leaders in the USA from Evangelical, Catholic and liberal traditions signed a joint statement urging Christians to oppose the Bill and to distance themselves from the American fundamentalists who have helped to promote it.
They declared that regardless of diverse views on sexual ethics, “our Christian faith recognises violence, harassment and unjust treatment of any human being as a betrayal of Jesus' commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves”.
Their statement put further pressure on Christian leaders in the UK, where the United Reformed Church remains the only mainstream denomination to have formally condemned the proposed law.
Around 3,000 people have already signed a petition urging the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams – as well as other Christian leaders – to oppose the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Williams' office has said that he is working against the Bill behind the scenes and will not comment in public. However, he triggered anger when he questioned the appointment of a lesbian bishop in the USA, implying that he will be open in his criticisms of those at one end of the spectrum but not the other.
While it remains to be seen whether the proposed amendments are put in place, it is unlikely that this will significantly reduce the level of opposition.
As the Pan Africa International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) put it yesterday (9 December), the Bill would “punish the innocent people, break up family, interfere with honourable businesses, ruin people’s livelihoods, promote fear, discrimination and hatred”.
To sign the petition urging Christian leaders to speak out against the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, please visit http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Uganda_Christians/index.html.