By Peter Mulira
Western principles on the relationship between the state and the individual are the issue, not whether homosexuality is right
In her article, “Uganda should not be pushed to adopt Western values in the name of democracy” (see Daily Monitor of March 2), Betty Kamya seemed to imply that by opposing our Anti-Gay law the Western donor countries were trying to implant in our society their degenerative cultural practices. Among those practices is that of general permissiveness. In other words, to Betty Kamya, the West opposes our newly enacted Anti-gay law so that homosexuality may spread in the country unimpeded.
The suggestion that Western countries have ill motives in opposing our Anti-Gay law is wrong and simplistic and it is not supported by facts. Many people in the West, including well-respected religious leaders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, oppose this law but they at the same time preach against the evils of social permissiveness. In the same vein, Western countries opposed the apartheid policies and laws in South Africa not because they wanted to impose their culture on the South Africans. They did so because they believed in a higher universal principle which holds that all human beings are equal and that nobody should be discriminated against simply because he or she is different.
Indeed the West’s attitude to the Anti-Gay law is not informed by the morality or otherwise of the practice of homosexuality. It is guided by the principles which govern the relationship between the state and the individual.
The struggles for freedom from monarchs in Europe in the 16th century led to the freeing of civil society i.e. the person, family and business from political interference. Since then, political thought in the West reveres the principle that the state cannot interfere in the personal affairs of the individual. All the great political thinkers and writers in the West have emphasised the liberty of the individual from state control for the last five centuries. It is, therefore, naïve to attribute the West’s stand on our law to things like culture, neocolonialism, and the death of Christian faith.
The right of the individual to freedom of choice was gradually won in Europe over the years in matters as diverse as marriage, religion, economic and political affairs, and everything that affected daily life. The result was that the grip of feudal traditions and customs became loosened and the nature and limits of political authority, law, rights and obedience emerged as a preoccupation of European society. In the process the state came to be associated with a form of public power separate both from the ruler and the ruled. The state came to consist of the central political authority whose sole purpose was to provide for its citizens subsistence, abundance, equality and security.
In the end, state control over the individual’s life whether by physical force, legal penalties or moral coercion of public opinion became circumscribed. As one political writer put it, “the principle is that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection and the only purpose for which power can be exercised over any member of a community against his will is to prevent harm to others.” Such liberty of the individual from interference in his life consists less in acting according to one’s pleasure than in not being subject to the will and pleasure of other people.This doctrine of individual liberty from political interference forms the core of the West’s concept of a liberal democracy.
The doctrine of civil liberties should be distinguished from that of individual human rights. Human rights are freedoms established by custom or imposed through international agreements that impose standards of conduct on all nations. Civil liberties are freedoms established by the law of a particular state.
A number of rights have been created since World War II by international treaties under which human rights standards are enforceable universally. In addition the American case of Brown V Board of Education, 1954, which effectively ended discrimination on account of race in American schools unleashed a new civil rights vision in which its principles have been applied to very different groups in America such as women, the aged, and to ethnic groups such as Asians, Hispanics and American Indians. This vision has been extended internationally to the plight of the Third World and to human rights policies of other countries such as the apartheid system in South Africa. Today civil rights issues are the concern of everybody worldwide regardless of national boundaries.
In the end it is fair to conclude that the West’s opposition to the Anti-Gay law is premised on three things, namely; its historical concept of the relationship between state and the individual, universally binding treaties, and the civil rights vision which was born out of the decision in the American case of Brown v Board of Education.