Thousands of Americans are expressing outrage over a new bill in Uganda that would heavily penalize those involved in homosexuality.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which is currently being debated, imposes punishment not only on gays and lesbians who engage in homosexual behavior, but also those who support gay organizations or who know about a homosexual and fail to report it to authorities.
"American Christians have some culpability for this situation by going to Uganda and failing to speak against this error," said Dr. Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. "American Christians need to step up and speak now."
Throckmorton recently started a Facebook page to spread awareness about the bill and urge the public to voice their opposition. The page already has more than 2,500 members from around the globe, many of them speechless over the new bill.
"This is just quite simply wrong on all levels," Deb Parsons wrote on the social networking page.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda and can be punished with life imprisonment. But the anti-homosexuality legislation, proposed by ruling party MP David Bahati, was designed to "fill the gaps" in the provisions of existing laws and "strengthen the nation's capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family."
A coalition of human rights and Civil Society groups blasted the measure for attacking human rights protections and placing "everybody" at risk – including parents, teachers, landlords, doctors, media and religious leaders who provide counseling to someone struggling with their sexuality, work with those infected with HIV/AIDS, or do not report an offense within 24 hours of knowledge.
"[I]t cannot be implemented without making every citizen spy on his or her neighbors," the coalition said in a statement last month. "The last time this was done was in the Amin era, where everyone very quickly became an 'enemy of the state'. It amounts to a direct invasion of our homes, and will promote blackmail, false accusations and outright intimidation of certain members of the population."
In addition to penalizing the "promotion of homosexuality" and "failure to disclose the offense," the bill also states that a Ugandan citizen or permanent resident who engages in homosexual activity outside the country can still be punished. Another provision nullifies international treaties, protocols, and declarations that are "contradictory to the spirit and provisions enshrined in this act."
Punishments range from a fine and a three-year imprisonment to life imprisonment and the death penalty.
Joann Lockard, the public affairs officer for the U.S. embassy in Kampala, said the bill, if adopted, would "constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda," as reported by Agence France-Presse.
Ugandan Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo rejected such arguments, stating, "They have no mandate whatsoever to come and say: 'Your values are wrong, mine are right,'" according to AFP.
Reports have indicated that religious leaders in Uganda, including the Rev. Aaron Mwesigye of the Church of Uganda, want the death penalty provision removed but support life imprisonment. In the United States, some Christians have expressed opposition to the measure in its entirety in informal discussions but formal statements have yet to be made.
"I am not sure it is on the radar of many groups here," Throckmorton wrote on the Facebook page. "We are out in front as far as I can tell."
Throckmorton has urged Christ followers in Uganda to "put down the stones," as he cited the New Testament account of the woman caught in the act of adultery.
"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her," Jesus told those who were about to stone the woman. Everyone left without tossing one stone.
"Jesus intervened on behalf of the woman, was He wrong?" Throckmorton noted in an op-ed in Uganda's The Independent. "Clearly, He did not believe adultery was proper. But He signaled a new way of dealing with sin, one which emphasizes mercy and freedom, rather than coercion and death.
"Brothers and sisters, jailing or killing gays or those suspected of being gay or those who know gays cannot create a righteous people, and in fact may further a self-righteous people. One may disapprove of homosexuality, and still treat homosexuals as you would want to be treated. Who among us could stand if our private sins were judged in such a manner as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009?"