Correcting Canyon Ridge: What Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill really says

 On July 11, Pastor Kevin Odor took about 17 minutes to open his sermon with a description of the current controversy over Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s partnership with Martin Ssempa. He described some of the methods Ssempa has used to promote Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill as “offensive” and said the church leaders met with Ssempa in March to hear his side of the story. While the church leaders advised Ssempa against the unnamed offensive methods, Pastor Odor said the group was heartened by Ssempa’s reasons for supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Those reasons seemed to center around the perception that the bill was needed to cover certain gaps in the law.

I certainly agree with Pastor Odor that Ssempa’s methods and rhetoric have been offensive to say the least. However, I completely disagree with Odor’s description of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In essence, with the narrative he provided for his church, he suggests that Rick Warren, World Vision, WAIT Training, Philadelphia Biblical University, and numerous others have misunderstood and/or misrepresented the AHB. Although this is familiar territory for frequent readers here, we go over it again.

Here is what Pastor Odor told his congregation about the bill:

Now the problem comes last Fall that there was a member of Parliament who decided to propose a bill to take care of some things that he was concerned weren’t being protected. And it was introduced as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. There had been a number of sodomy laws on the books already in Uganda but there were a couple of things that weren’t protected. One in particular is aggravated pedophilia basically where there was a repeat offender who was violating young men over and over again and there wasn’t a protection for that. And the second was now with HIV/AIDS if someone with HIV/AIDS, knowing that, violated someone and passing that on that was another concern.

And so…the new bill that was written had about 60% of the old bill in it and it added these new provisions to protect young people and this lawmaker’s idea was to make the equal punishment because over there already on the books if a man violates a young woman, the man would be put to death. The death penalty was prescribed for that. Let’s make that equal for young boys, let’s make the death penalty for someone who violates young boys. And so that was his intent and that was what he put in the bill.

A little later in Odor’s speech, he described his interview with Barbera Bradley Hagerty of National Public Radio. He told her his view of why the bill was tabled:

…she didn’t understand the equal thing of boys and girls being protected and so there was a misrepresentation that we were trying to clarify.

Pastor Odor wants us to believe that Ugandan law does not address the same-sex molestation. However, as I pointed out here, it does. On April 18, 2007, the Uganda Parliament passed The Penal Code Amendment Act of 2007 and corrected the imbalance by removing references to gender.

The principal Act is amended by substituting for section 129 the following new sections—

Defilement of persons under eighteen years of age

129. (1) Any person who performs a sexual act with another person who is below the age of eighteen years, commits a felony known as defilement and is on conviction liable to life imprisonment.

(2) Any person who attempts to perform a sexual act with another person who is below the age of eighteen years commits an offence and is on conviction, liable to imprisonment not exceeding eighteen years.

(3) Any person who attempts to perform a sexual act with another person who is below the age of eighteen years in any of the circumstances specified in subsection (4) commits a felony called aggravated defilement and is, on conviction by the High Court, liable to suffer death.

If the boy child is unprotected by this language, then so is the girl child. In fact, all situations involving male and female victims and male and female perpetrators are covered here. Girls and boys are protected equally; Pastor Odor’s narrative falls apart.

The other issue referred to by Pastor Odor is intentional spread of HIV. The Penal Code Amendment Act also references that crime and imposes the death penalty:

(b) where the offender to his or her knowledge, is infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome(AIDS);

Don’t believe me or the minutes of the Parliament? Then maybe Pastor Odor will believe Martin Ssempa. On Michael Brown’s Line of Fire radio show and then on his blog, Ssempa acknowledged for the first time that “the boy child” was, after all, protected. Speaking to Brown about the need for the AHB, Ssempa wrote:

3. Why does Uganda need bill now.

a. International groups which are coersing homosexuality down our throats ie France and Netherlands at the UN.

b. Lack of protection for the boy child from homosexual rape.

c. Lack of protection for the girls and women in the current law. Only focus on male homosexuality.

d. Lack of legislation against promotion and conspiracies to promote homosexuality.

Note: We have learnt that now the Penal Code was amended to cater for the gender imbalance in b above. (my emphasis)

Even Martin Ssempa acknowledges that there is no gender imbalance in the current Uganda Penal Code. That imbalance had been addressed in 2007. I informed Rev. Ssempa of that fact in November, 2009 via a link to a legal analysis of the bill. Ssempa was also aware that the AHB targeted consensual behavior via emails from a friend of his in the Ugandan Parliamentary research service, Charles Tuhaise.

When I first contacted Ssempa in October, 2009, he referred me to Tuhaise, believing he could help address my questions about the bill. Mr. Tuhaise made the purpose of the bill clear in a November 5 email to both Martin Ssempa and me. Addressing my concerns about the bill, Mr. Tuhaise wrote:

Pr. Ssempa and Mr Throckmorton, 

I appreciate Pr. Ssempa copying me in on this conversation and hope Mr. Throckmorton too appreciates us sharing this conversation as brethren in Christ. I have read to the bottom of your conversation and have understood the key issues of contention, basically, that critics of Hon. Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill see it as disregarding the right of adults to engage in consensual sex. I think this is where Mr. Throckmorton is raising objection when he says that the issue at hand is not “child abuse”, which is justifiable.

I would like to clarify what the Bill says and why, because it seems to me Mr.Throckmorton either has not read the full text of the Bill (with its memorandum) or has not correctly interpreted its import. The Bill states its object as:

 “to establish a comprehensive consolidated legislation to protect the traditional family by prohibiting (1) any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; and (2) the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations in public institutions and other places through or with the support of any Government entity in Uganda or any governmental    organisation inside or outside the country”.

The Bill’s specific objectives are to:

 (a) provide for marrige in Uganda as that contracted only between a man and a woman;

(b) prohibit and penalise homosexual behaviour and related practices in Uganda as they constitute a threat to the traditional family;

(c) prohibit ratfication of any international treaties, conventions, protocols, agreements and declations which are contrary or inconsistent with the provisions of this Act; and

(d) prohibit the licensing of organisations which promote homosexuality.

Even if I stop here, Mr.Throckmorton’s querry about “consenting adults” is answered. The Bill asserts that continued practice of homosexuality by anybody, including “consenting adults” constitutes a threat to the traditional family.

I’m a social scientist and know that this assertion is true, because behaviour spreads through social learning. All that behaviour needs to begin spreading like bushfire is any form of social or legal legitimacy. As science has proved, gay behaviour is not in the genes, it spreads through social learning and experimentation. Yet, the other aspect about behaviour is that once it is acquired, it is so difficult to unlearn – especially sexual behaviour that is associated with such powerful a reinforcer as “orgasm”. A young man who under peer influence experiments with homosexuality is risking fine-tuning his entire life in that direction, because the brain records such an experience, which then becomes a triger for sexual thoughts and feelings.

Mr. Tuhaise here confirms that the bill is not simply about child abuse and lays out his justification for keeping homosexuality criminal “for anybody.” Pastor Ssempa was also a recipient of the email and responded to both Mr. Tuhaise and me the next day calling Mr. Tuhaise’s views “a good reply to further your understanding.”

The AHB includes references to aggravated defilement as a duplication of the 2007 law but there is so much more to it. By making his narrative about a non-existent problem, Pastor Odor did not give his congregation the full picture. The problem is not just Martin Ssempa’s “offensive” methods or the way he says things, but it is with the proposals he helped to create and has supported for months. Toning down the rhetoric won’t change that.

To review the AHB, click here. Here is the full text with comments.

For all posts on the AHB, click here.

For my response to Martin Ssempa’s Line of Fire interview, click here. In this interview, he said the AHB was on the Ugandan Parliament website (not true) and that he would post it on his blog (has not done it).