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Ugandan President Museveni (AP/Charles Dharapak)

Imprisoning gays

Uganda | Christian ministries ask President Museveni to preserve life and liberty for Ugandan homosexuals

Christian ministries are speaking out against a Ugandan bill that would levy harsh penalties for homosexuals, saying it will make Christian ministry to homosexuals impossible.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda-punishing "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" with up to 14 years imprisonment-but the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 would make homosexuality (broadly defined to include touching) an offense punishable by life imprisonment. Some consensual homosexual acts-defined as "aggravated homosexuality" and including relationships between a boss and an employee, or a relationship with a disabled person-would be a capital offense.

Some Christian ministries are opposing the bill, saying it would drive homosexuals into hiding and prevent them from getting help to deal with same-sex attraction. The bill would also require authority figures to report homosexuals within 24 hours of discovering their behavior, punishing the leaders with up to three years of imprisonment if they fail to do so. Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, said this puts Christian ministers or counselors in the position of either ministering to homosexuals or breaking the law: "Do I go to jail or do I help this person?"

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Exodus International, an organization that aims to help people find "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," sent a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni saying, "Deprivation of life and liberty is not an appropriate or helpful response." The letter cautioned that it would make ministry leaders unable to help people who seek to leave the homosexual lifestyle and make Christian compassion "a difficult if not impossible task." Finding a new sexual identity "cannot best be achieved in an environment of government coercion where the vital support, care and compassion of others in the Christian community is discouraged and prosecuted."

Opponents are also arguing that the bill will exacerbate the AIDS epidemic by driving homosexual HIV sufferers underground since practicing homosexuals who have HIV would also receive the death penalty.

But Scott Lively, president of Abiding Truth Ministries and a speaker at an ex-gay conference in Uganda last March, said he's not completely opposed to criminalizing homosexuality. He said that he advised Ugandans to liberalize the law, add the option of treatment, and "make the law more palatable to the international community." But he adds that he believes Uganda should maintain its law against homosexuality "and that they should use that as a way to basically say, 'No, you're not going to be able to promote this behavior because it's illegal behavior.'

"I do not support people being thrown in jail simply for homosexual conduct. I think that sex should be private. . . . If someone wants to engage in sexual conduct in the privacy of their home, then there shouldn't be people breaking down the door to find out what they're doing."

As of November 6, the Church of Uganda has said that it is studying the bill but does not yet have an official position. It added, though, that the church cannot support the death penalty and that it was "committed at all levels to offer counseling, healing, and prayer for people with homosexual disorientation."

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