Uganda, Morals Legislation, and Public Perception

on June 21, 2013

Uganda Flag

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by Rick Plasterer

The saga of Uganda’s proposed toughened anti-sodomy law and the American Evangelical connection with it drags on, even as laws and punishments of as great or greater severity continue on in the Middle East, largely unremarked on.

Like many African and other non-western countries, Uganda has had a sodomy law on its books for many years. A legislative proposal in 2009 would have increased penalties to death for “aggravated” homosexual activity, which include activity by HIV positive persons, or with minors, and increased penalties generally to include acts committed outside Uganda, and mandatory reporting of homosexual activity or support for such activity. The bill also denied the claim commonly advanced by homosexual activists that sexual orientation is immutable and noted international pressure to impose “sexual promiscuity” on Uganda.

Intense international pressure indeed quickly followed leading the government to propose dropping the death penalty. However, the bill continues to be advanced; the Speaker of the Parliament sought to pass it in 2012 and the bill is on the legislative agenda for 2013.

Uganda reasonably has a historical background which makes the debate about sodomy especially intense domestically, and contributes to the confrontation when faced with international pressure. The famous Ugandan Martyrs, 22 young men who were pages of the king of the native state of Buganda, were put to death in the late nineteenth century for their refusal to submit to the sexual advances of the king, and refusal to renounce Christianity. More recently, Uganda was one of a number of sub-Saharan African countries that suffered severely from the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s and continues to cope with the threat of AIDS, with considerable success, although controversially, by emphasizing sexual abstinence and fidelity before the use of condoms.

Part of the controversy has been criticism of American Evangelical Christian leaders for inspiring or supporting the bill. This line was taken by such liberal sources as the New York Times. Yet it seems that Uganda was under pressure to eliminate its existing sodomy law as far back as 2007, while WorldNetDaily reported that advocates of liberalization were making the common (and inaccurate) claim that international conventions require it. The bill originating in 2009 referred specifically to international pressure, and the defense of traditional culture in Uganda. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California notably opposed the measure, for which he was in turn criticized by Ugandan pastors. Currently some American social conservative organizations continue to offer support for Uganda’s efforts to maintain traditional morality. And some Evangelical spokesmen also support the proposed sodomy bill, noting that its death penalty has been eliminated, and that enforcement in African nations is often less severe than the letter of the law. This was certainly the case with morals legislation in the United States, now eliminated as far as homosexuality is concerned by the Supreme Court’s Romer and Lawrence decisions, and threatened generally by those decisions.

The attention of the western press to Uganda’s sodomy law and American social conservative involvement with it is in striking by contrast to the lack of attention to more severe penalties for sodomy existing and accepted in the Muslim world. This includes both actual executions for sodomy and extra-judicial killings and attacks, and arises in part from the increasing use of sharia law in majority Muslim countries, according to which sodomy is a capital crime. Iran, which instituted an Islamic state more than 30 years ago, is a prime example of a fully Islamic legal system and its treatment of homosexual behavior, while Human Rights Watch provides accounts of extra-legal attacks in Iraq where no sodomy law existed. Passionate commitment to orthodox Islam and sharia law shows no real signs of subsiding in the Muslim world, and indeed it has been noted that it is more characteristic of the young than the old among Muslims. This means that the implementation of sharia law and its severe penalties reasonably will be with many Muslim majority nations for years to come, including the penalties for sex crimes. Indeed, sharia’s effects reasonably will be felt in Europe as enclaves of Muslims there continue to grow while the native European population declines from a low birth rate. Yet it is not to be expected that there will be criticism of Muslim laws or practices as intense or sustained as that against social conservatives in the West. Like homosexuality, Islam is considered a “victim” category by the western left, disinclining many to criticize it, while in those jurisdictions where there are restrictions on speech criticizing protected groups, even stating the truth can be a crime. This was well shown by the case of Lars Hedegaard in Denmark, prosecuted for accurately describing the abuse of women that occurs in Muslim countries.

If we step back and look at the mainstream outcry against the proposed Ugandan law and the claimed American Evangelical involvement in it, we see that the proposed law is in line with past sodomy statutes, carrying strong penalties, likely sporadically enforced, and existing in large measure to make a social statement that acceptable social bounds are those of traditional morality. It can even be seen as a courageous attempt to respond to the juggernaut of social radicalism that the western left is advancing across the world through western governments, the United Nations, and NGOs. It hardly bears comparison to the widespread use of traditional Muslim penalties against sodomy that continue to be vigorously enforced.

  1. Comment by Marcos W (@HockeyTarheel) on June 23, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    There is nothing about Uganda’s attempt to persecute gay people that any good person should call “courageous.” What you call “social radicalism” is basic human rights, the right to live ones life in accordance with who one is, their personal convictions, and the pursuit of happiness. Uganda’s attempts to persecute gays and lesbians are not courageous, they are inhumane, and any real Christian should oppose them.

  2. Comment by skotiad on June 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Marcos, that is a curious reaction, I was under the impression that liberals honored “diversity” and “multiculturalism” and “inclusiveness” and all that. That being the case, a sincere liberal ought to have no opinions on what an African nation does – different cultures do things differently. Also, such a criticism might be construed as racist. We cannot impose our culture and values on another, can we? To impose American beliefs about sexual practices on Uganda would be a form of cultural imperialism, and we’ve been told for several decades now that imperialism is totally wrong.

    So which is more important – the right to promiscuous sodomy, or the need to affirm cultural diversity?

  3. Comment by rickplasterer on June 25, 2013 at 7:18 pm


    Where do rights come from? The right to either homosexual practice or homosexual marriage is not even hinted at in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which refers to the right of “men and women” to marry and the family as a “natural and fundamental group” (Article 16). Rights have to be based on the truth, and only a transcendent law giver can give them an absolute footing. For those skeptical, there is natural law doctrine, but that bases sexual matters on biological reality, not the wishes of individuals. The claim of homosexual rights is really based on a claim of suffering, but more than that is needed to establish rights. The fact that the truth may be found painful does not make the truth wrong, it makes us wrong if we disagree with it.

    Rick Plasterer

  4. Pingback by Steynian 476rd | Free Canuckistan! on June 24, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    […] NAE are on a Quest for Peace; an excellent selection of good writing; Uganda, Morals Legislation, and Public Perception; The Evangelical Immigration Table Continues to Perplex; The General: Charles de Gaulle and the […]

  5. Comment by etseq on March 9, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    So your entire argument is “Muslims are worse”? Wow…Good to know that the IRD is just as dedicated to right wing politics as ever.

  6. Comment by Rick Plasterer on March 13, 2014 at 10:07 am


    In this and a previous article on Western Liberalism and the Penalties of Islam (Jan. 11, 2013) I point out that western liberals regard homosexuals and Muslims as both oppressed groups, but either fail to notice or ignore the fact that Muslim societies exact greater penalties for homosexuality than existed in the West even before the sexual revolution.


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