House of Deputies president condemns proposed Uganda anti-homosexuality legislation
Integrity USA, Canadian bishops also call for opposition
By Mary Frances Schjonberg, November 30, 2009
[Episcopal News Service] The pending Ugandan legislation that would imprison for life or execute people who violate that country's anti-homosexuality laws would be a "terrible violation of the human rights of an already persecuted minority," Episcopal Church House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson has said.
Anderson was responding to a Nov. 16 request that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Archbishop Henri Orombi of Uganda and she speak out against the legislation. Anderson is the first to issue a statement.
Homosexuality in Uganda currently carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment. If passed, the bill would extend prison sentences for homosexuals up to and including life imprisonment and introduce the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," which includes assault against people under the age of 18 and those with disabilities.
Opponents fear that people, including family members and clergy, who support and advise homosexual people could be prosecuted and punished under the proposed law, which also would give Ugandan courts jurisdiction over Ugandan citizens who violate the law "partly outside or partly in Uganda."
The proposed legislation is "an attempt to use the authority of the state to deprive individuals of their God-given dignity, and to isolate them from the care and concern of their fellow human beings," Anderson said in her Nov. 25 letter to the co-conveners of the Chicago Consultation, a group of lay and ordained Episcopalians General Convention in 2006 condemned (via Resolution D005) the criminalization of homosexuality, Anderson noted.
The church's Executive Council, an elected group of 40 clergy, laity and bishops that carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention according to Canon I.4 (1)(a), is expected to meet by teleconference Dec. 7 to consider a possible statement on the Ugandan legislation.
"I hope and believe that a vigorous statement will be forthcoming, and that I will be able to support this statement wholeheartedly," Anderson said.
Meanwhile, Anderson said she would encourage House of Deputies members and first alternates to contact their congresspersons through the church's Office of Government Relations to express their opposition to the bill.
In a related matter, Integrity USA, a group that advocates for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the Episcopal Church, on Nov. 30 called on leaders of the church to speak out against the Ugandan parliament's proposed bill. The group specifically urged Jefferts Schori to make a statement and to ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "to work through diplomatic channels with the government of Uganda to quash this bill."
The Rev. David Norgard, Integrity USA president, said in a news release that "it is our moral imperative to take a stand."
"Integrity applauds all those who have spoken out so far, including the Anglican Church of Canada, and those who intend to do so in the future," he said.
The Canadian church's Council of General Synod and its House of Bishops oppose the legislation. Most recently, the Canadian bishops said on Nov. 27 that they joined with the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in expressing their "dismay and concern."
The bishops cited the baptismal covenant's requirement to respect the dignity of every human being and to seek and serve Christ in all persons as part of the basis of their opposition.
"We further note that 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1:10 called upon all bishops to reject the irrational fear of homosexual persons and to create opportunities to listen to the voice and experience of homosexual Christians," the Canadian bishops said. "We recall that the Primates Meeting in Dromantine, Ireland 2005 condemned all persecution and violence towards homosexual persons."
In the latter case, the bishops were referring to paragraph 6 of the meeting's communiqué, available here.
The bishops also asked their colleagues in the Church of the Province of Uganda (Anglican) to oppose the bill and called on the Canadian government to "convey a deep sense of alarm" about its prospects.
The Anglican Church of Uganda on Nov. 6 issued a press release saying that it is studying the bill and does not yet have an official position on the proposed legislation. However, the release restated the Ugandan church's position that "homosexual behavior is immoral and should not be promoted, supported, or condoned in any way as an 'alternative lifestyle.'"
And AllAfrica.com reported Oct. 29 that the church's provincial secretary told the Monitor newspaper in Kampala, Uganda, that jailing homosexuals was preferable to executing them. "If you kill the people, to whom will the message go? We need to have imprisonment for life if the person is still alive," said the Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, according to the website.