Friday 2 April 2010

Leading African clergy and civil society groups call on Uganda to stop the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (a patron of Changing Attitude), the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr. Thabo Makgoba, Bishop Jo Seoka (Bishop of Pretoria), Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha, (Priest in the Church of Uganda and Reverend Bongani Blessing Finca (former Commissioner of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Provincial Electoral Officer for the Eastern Cape, South Africa) have endorsed a statement calling on the Parliament of Uganda to reject the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in its entirety.

The statement also calls on African governments and the African Union to call on the President and Government of Uganda to withdraw the Bill and to respect the human rights of all in Uganda, without exception. The Archbishops, bishops and priests join more than 60 civil society and human rights groups from 10 sub-Saharan African countries and prominent individuals in affirming that the right of men and women to have same sex relationships is a fundamental human right.

When gug, the gay Ugandan blogger, forwarded the statement and press release to me on Monday the list of signatories included the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Reverend Henry Orombi and the Right Reverend Zac Niringiye, Suffragan Bishop of Kampala. Gug described it as an astonishing development and said he didn’t know why the change of heart had occurred. He couldn’t quite believe it. He was right to distrust those two signatures. It would indeed have been a dramatic conversion if the Primate of Uganda had endorsed a statement which says:

We believe that the Bill, if enacted, will cut deeply into the fabric of Ugandan society by–
Violating the rights of an already vulnerable and severely stigmatised group of persons by attacking their dignity, privacy and other constitutionally protected rights;
Disrupting family and community life by compelling everyone, by the threat of criminal sanction, to report those suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual activity;
Seeking to withdraw Uganda from the family of nations by reneging on the country’s international law obligations;
Undermining public health interventions such as HIV prevention, treatment, care and support;
Promoting prejudice and hate and encouraging harmful and violent action to be taken against those engaging in same sex relations.

Changing Attitude welcomes the fact that both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Thabo Makgoba, the Archbishop of Cape Town endorsed the statement.

I asked gug in subsequent emails why anyone would have added the names of the Archbishop and Bishop. Doing so risked the danger of discrediting a powerful statement which leading Anglicans have signed. Gug didn’t know the answer.

The statement and press release can be read on Changing Attitude’s web site. The organisers say the list of individuals and organizations continues to grow and will be updated regularly.

The Province of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa had already issued a statement on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda on 19 February 2010:
We, the Bishops of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, meeting at Thokoza Conference Centre, Swaziland, from 8 to 12 February 2010, are disturbed by the debate among Ugandan law-makers of a draft bill that seek to criminalize homosexuality and to prosecute gay people. It even proposes imposing the death penalty, which we regard as a breach of God’s commandment, “You shall not murder,” given in Exodus 20:13. We also deplore the statement, attributed to our fellow Bishop, describing those who are opposed to this legislation as “lovers of evil”. Though there are a breadth of theological views among us on matters of human sexuality, we see this Bill as a gross violation of human rights and we therefore strongly condemn such attitudes and behaviour towards other human beings. We emphasize the teachings of the Scriptures that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore must be treated with respect and accorded human dignity.

We are therefore also deeply concerned about the violent language used against the gay community across Sub-Saharan Africa. We thus appeal to law-makers to defend the rights of these minorities. As Bishops we believe that it is immoral to permit or support oppression of, or discrimination against, people on the grounds of their sexual orientation, and contrary to the teaching of the gospel; particularly Jesus’ command that we should love one another as he has loved us, without distinction (John 13:34-35). We commit ourselves to teach, preach and act against any laws that undermine human dignity and oppress any and all minorities, even as we call for Christians and all people to uphold the standards of holiness of life.

We call on all Christians to stand up against this Bill so that its provisions do not become law in Uganda or anywhere else in the world. We also call on our President and law-makers to engage in dialogue with their counterparts on the rights of minorities.

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