Vatican speaks out against Uganda anti-gay laws

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Pope Benedict is opposed to 'unjust discrimination' against gay men and lesbians, according to a statement addressed to a United Nations panel by the Vatican's legal attaché, the Reverend Philip J Bene, today.

The statement is being seen as a response to a bill being considered by the Ugandan parliament, which would introduce the death penalty for 'aggravated homosexuality' in the east African country.

David Bahati, the Ugandan MP behind the bill, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide his reasoning for putting the new laws forward.

Foreign influence
He said that foreigners use money to recruit young people into homosexuality and that in Uganda homosexuality is perceived to be a learned behaviour, that can also be unlearned.

“Also, according to our constitution, homosexuality is not a human right. We believe that the traditional family was meant for man and woman, and anything contrary to that will be a distortion of the nature of order and it is already illegal in Uganda. This bill is trying to consolidate all these laws into one piece of legislation that will sum up the spirit and aspirations of Uganda as a society.”

The bill will be debated in a fortnight and is expected to become law in February.

Hate crimes

The international community have called it a serious violation of basic human rights - and a major step backwards for Africa, which will usher in a new era of hate crimes.

Mark Bromley, of the Council for Global Equality, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that Uganda was contradicting human rights laws it had already accepted under UN treaty provisions.

“Our response is that this is a basic human rights issue. Uganda has accepted basic human rights standards that come with being a part of the community of nations in the UN and those standards are under direct attack in Uganda. This isn’t about western or European governments imposing their social views on Uganda. It’s a basic human rights struggle of the kind…where governments go after demonized or minority communities to score political points.”

Christian evangelists
In March this year, Mr Bahati attended a conference in Uganda held by anti-gay US Christian evangelists who have promised to wipe out homosexuality. He drew up his bill within weeks of the meeting.

Mark Bromley says there are clear substantial links between evangelical communities in the US and some of the communities and religious institutions that are now supporting these criminalisation efforts in Uganda.

“Fortunately there are a number of religious leaders in the US, including some powerful and conservative religious leaders, who have come out against the bill and its now time for the political and religious leadership in Uganda to take a stand for basic human rights and basic dignity for all.”

International pressure

For his part, Mr Bahati maintains that pressure from the international community will not sway him.

“The potential for homosexuality to destroy our family is so huge that if you don’t act now in the coming years our society will be finished. There is no amount of pressure, of intimidation, of noise, that can stop us from defending the tradition of family values, from defending our children and from defending our country and our continent.”

The bill’s classification of ‘aggravated homosexuality’, for which the death penalty could be passed, includes HIV-positive gay people and repeat offenders.

If Uganda passes the bill, which is very likely, it will join 37 other African countries where US-backed evangelical Christian groups are spreading an anti-homosexual message.