Uganda's \"Kill the Gays\" bill returns to Parliament's table

The Ugandan bill that would impose the death penalty on some gays and lesbians was scheduled to be debated today. By chance, however, a walkout by female members of Parliament because of a dispute over an unrelated bill cancelled the debate.

"We were saved by the lack of quorum," said Frank Mugisha, the director of the gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda. Mugisha and others believe that the bill might have passed today because so many members of Parliament were in favor of it.

There is a little good news to report. David Bahati, the author of the bill, said that a revised version of the bill would remove the punishment by death penalty. In its new form, the bill would impose seven years of jail time for anyone convicted of homosexuality as well as for anyone who "aids, abets, counsels, or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality." Landlords who rent property to gays and lesbians could also face seven years.

According to The Associated Press, the amended version of the bill has yet to be released publicly. The plan now is for the bill to be debated in an extraordinary session of Parliament on Friday.

If it does not pass next week, Bahati is vowing to reintroduce it in Parliament's next session.

As I reported back in February, it is widely held that Christian fundamentalist ministers in the U.S. promoted the homo-hating sentiment that led to the creation of this bill. Journalist Jeff Sharlet, who is credited with exposing the link between the U.S. religious right and the rise of homophobia in Uganda, wrote in Harper's in 2010:

"[F]or years, American fundamentalists have looked on Uganda as a laboratory for theocracy, though most prefer such terms as 'government led by God.' They sent not just money and missionaries but ideas, and if the money disappeared and the missionaries came and went, the ideas took hold."

As of now, more than 1.4 million signatures have been collected by an online petition denouncing the bill. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called its progress "deeply alarming."

No words condemning the bill have come from the Vatican. And, yet, as paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: gay and lesbian people "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

The world, particularly Uganda's 11.2 million Catholics, is waiting for the hierarchy to honor its official teaching.

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