By Opiyo Oloya
Dear Members of Uganda Parliament;
The international spotlight is on you, the elected representatives of the people of Uganda, as you work your way through the proposed Bill 18, also known as the Anti-homosexuality Bill 2009. This legislation has created the equivalent of a tsunami response around the world. The world media has made it the number one story coming out of Africa recently. The main issue that is causing international concern is the attempt to make homosexuality a criminal offense punishable by life imprisonment under the proposed legislation.
I have read Bill 18 in its entirety, from top to bottom. Now, for this bill to make sense, you need to break it down into two goals. The first goal of the bill is found in Section 2 titled “The offense of homosexuality”. This part of the bill legislates the morality of homosexuality by making homosexuality between two consenting adults a crime. I will come back to this in a moment.
The second goal of Bill 18 is located in Section 3 titled “Aggravated homosexuality”. Foremost, the so-called “aggravated homosexuality” is a fancy name for rape of a vulnerable male, say, a boy by a male pedophile. A pedophile is an adult person or older adolescent who is sexually aroused by young children. An adult male who has sex with a young boy or forcibly has sex with another man has committed a rape. Specifically, Section 3 of Bill 18 is attempting to protect vulnerable Ugandans especially children from rape, homosexual or otherwise. The protection of children under 18 from pedophiles is the duty of every country around the world.
In Canada the maximum sentence for aggravated rape of a child is life imprisonment. In June 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for child rape was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in late September 2009, Poland’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved the chemical castration of pedophiles who rape children younger than 15 years of age. As members of Uganda parliament, you are within your right to throw the books at such offenders including life in prison, death penalty (which I do not support), and chemical castration upon conviction.
However, by using the term “aggravated homosexuality”, Bill 18 gives the appearance that a homosexual man raping a boy has committed a far more serious crime than a heterosexual man raping a little girl. In reality, whether a male pedophile rapes a girl or a boy, the consequences of these heinous crimes are the same; the child is scarred for life. The low life criminals in both cases are pedophiles who must be punished to the fullest extent of Uganda’s law.
Now, let us return to the first goal that Bill 18 is trying to achieve. This is the part that has many western countries seeing red. Section 2 titled “The offense of homosexuality” cleverly exploits the moral outrage around homosexual rape to attempt to legislate the morality of homosexuality itself. What do I mean by this?
What this section does is use our sincere anger as a society against rapists to attempt to legislate the behaviour around homosexuality. According to section 12, for example, “A person who purports to contract a marriage with another person of the same sex commits the offence of homosexuality and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.” In other words, two adult male homosexuals or two adult female homosexuals who fall in love with each other are seen by this law as criminals in the same category as rapists, and must go to jail for the rest of their lives.
Never mind that the two adults are not rapists, but in the eye of Bill 18 every homosexual must be a rapist, and every rapist deserves jail time or death. If true, many western nations including Canada and United States would be filled with homosexual rapists running around raping children and those who are vulnerable.
As well, Bill 18 proposes to make it a crime for any Ugandan to promote homosexuality, and fail to report homosexual activities. Now, a neighbour could accuse his neighbour of being a homosexual and have him thrown in jail, while he absconds with the poor man’s wife. Here, then, is what you should consider when debating Bill 18.
First, look at rape as rape, and then look at homosexuality as a stand alone issue. Once you have separated the two issues, keep in mind that just as only a tiny minority of heterosexuals rape girls and women, only a tiny minority of homosexuals rape boys or adult men. Should you choose to make homosexual rape of a boy punishable by death, then you also have a duty to make heterosexual rape of a girl punishable by death. Both are victims of rape who deserve to see their molesters face the same justice. It is that simple.
Secondly, once you have dealt with the issue of “aggravated homosexuality” or rape, you should try to figure out what to do with adult homosexuals who fall in love.Should homosexuals who are not rapists be thrown in jail, sentenced to death, thrown into Lake Victoria or into vat of acid just because they are homosexuals? That is the question before you ladies and gentlemen. You could adopt the US Army model of “don’t ask, don’t tell” by which homosexuals who choose to live in the closet are not bothered at all.
Here is what I should warn you about though. Should you pass Bill 18 as it is currently written, be prepared for the avalanche of challenges from around the world. It will be fierce and sharp. In fact, do not be surprised to see countries around the world immediately enacting laws that will make you, as members of Uganda’s parliament including the president of Uganda, pariahs on the international stage. My suggestion is to work hard to balance what you feel will promote traditional Uganda family values while respecting Uganda’s obligations to international human rights. You can do both.
Opiyo Oloya is a Ugandan living in Canada