Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill Stumbles, But Still Not Off the Table

After international outcry, parliamentary session ends without a vote on the bill.

By Channing Kennedy May 13, 2011

Amnesty International is reporting that Uganda’s parliamentary session has ended before voting on a bill that would make homosexuality a capital offense; this follows a delay earlier this week caused by female MPs walking out of session in protest. Colloquially called the "Kill the Gays" bill, the legislation would make homosexuality (already a crime in Uganda) punishable by a life sentence or death, along with prison sentences for anyone knowingly associating with a gay person. Uganda’s LGBTQ advocacy groups say that the bill’s mere presence in the news has fomented an increase in anti-gay hate crimes.

Our editor Kai Wright has written before about the well-documented link between American evangelicals, including Obama’s inaugural speaker Pastor Rick Warren, and Uganda’s inhumane anti-gay legislation. On Wednesday, the Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg wrote a comprehensive piece on the political history between U.S. and Ugandan evangelical groups:

Uganda is a country where American-style evangelical Christianity is exploding, and there are close links between many American anti-gay preachers, politicians, and activists, and their Ugandan counterparts. As Jeff Sharlet has reported, Bahati, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s sponsor, is the secretary of the Ugandan branch of The Family, the secretive American evangelical organization whose members include Sens. James Inhofe, Jim DeMint, and Tom Coburn. Martin Ssempa, a Pentecostal preacher who has championed the bill, was a protégé of Rick Warren and, during the Bush administration, a recipient of at least $90,000 of American aid earmarked for abstinence promotion. Another major anti-gay activist, Stephen Langa, the head of Uganda’s Family Life Network, is an affiliate of the Phoenix-based group Disciple Nations Alliance.

The point is not that American Christians urged their Ugandan counterparts to try to institute the death penalty for homosexuality–they didn’t. After much public pressure, Warren has spoken out against the bill, and the Disciple Nations Alliance issued a somewhat lukewarm objection, noting "concerns" but insisting on the right of sovereign nations "to establish their own laws."

Yet the ideology underlying the bill comes from American conservatives. It is Americans who have elaborated a vision of homosexuality as a satanic global conspiracy bent on destroying society’s foundations, akin to the Jewish octopus in classic anti-Semitic narratives. According to Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical psychology professor once associated with the ex-gay movement, when Uganda’s anti-gay activists speak about homosexuality, they cite materials by Scott Lively and Paul Cameron, two of the fiercest American opponents of the so-called homosexual agenda.

As Amnesty International’s release points out, the bill isn’t dead yet, as it can still be introduced in the new parliamentary session next week.