Uganda and its opposition to LGBTQ normalization: The country’s new “anti-gay” laws hit Western controversy

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
July 2, 2023

The East African nation of Uganda made big news this week as President Yoweri Museveni signed legislation establishing what The New York Times called “an anti-gay law” that was “condemned by the United Nations the European Union and rights groups.” Well, true enough, in that President Museveni did sign the law, and the law was opposed by many of the most powerful forces in the modern world, including the United Nations and the president of the United States.

The implication was that Uganda had done something unprecedented and out of step with the modern world. The law may well be out of step with the modern world, but it is hardly unprecedented. More than 30 of Africa’s 54 nations have similar legislation. Furthermore, other nations on the continent are considering legislation modeled after Uganda’s. In any event, a majority of African nations already have such laws on the books.

The Ugandan law does not criminalize homosexual identity claims, but it does criminalize all acts of sex between persons of the same gender. An older law had already made homosexual acts illegal, but the new legislation comes with more serious penalties and greater specificity.

This does not mean that the Ugandan law is right and just in every respect. Some of its penalties seem out of scale though they involve what are described as “aggravating” conditions. But there is good reason for a nation to grant legal privilege and protection to the marital union of a man and woman and to deny any other relationship equal recognition. Every civilized society criminalizes some sexual behaviors, and Ugandans have the right to define the boundaries of legal sexual behaviors. More specifically, they have the right to consider homosexual acts as criminal offenses. The outage from Western political leaders and the United Nations is against any such legislation.

Uganda’s parliament had been debating the proposed law for some time, and international pressure had been building. A constellation of governments and activist groups presented a coordinated effort to prevent the legislation from becoming law, but the pressure from within Uganda was far greater than the pressure from without, and President Museveni announced his signing of the bill on Monday.

President Biden condemned the law, calling it “a tragic violation of international human rights.” The president also instructed his administration to “evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda.”

There are several dimensions of this story that demand attention. For one thing, Americans should remind ourselves that laws criminalizing homosexual acts existed in the United States until 2003, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Lawrence v. Texas. If any criminal sanction of homosexual acts is “a tragic violation of human rights,” then the United States was a tragic violator of those rights until 20 years ago. That is not exactly ancient history.

But the modern world is a theater of moral posturing, and President Biden would probably not answer if asked what his position on the question would have been when he entered the Senate in 1972, or throughout most of his political career. He also does not want his own party to be reminded of his position on abortion back then. Keep in mind that the cultural left lives in the eternal now, and now President Biden condemns President Museveni for signing this legislation into law.

Indeed, even as activist groups blamed the new law on the influence of the “conservative Christian” groups in the United States, it can clearly be argued that the main cause of this legislation was outrage at efforts by Western liberal societies to pressure African nations into compliance with the new morality. As for the Christian influence, that was clear. The Church of Uganda, a conservative church associated with the Anglican Communion, claims 11 million members from a population of 45 million Ugandans. Archbishop Stephen Samuel Kaziimba has complained that gay activist groups were “recruiting our children into homosexuality.” The Ugandan church is also associated with more conservative Anglican bodies and recently joined a statement threatening a break with the Church of England and its primate, the archbishop of Canterbury over the issue of LGBTQ clergy.

Throughout Africa, opposition to LGBTQ normalization is grounded in three strong roots that include traditional African beliefs, Islam, and Christianity. All three are opposed to modern ideologies of sexual liberation. Years ago, an African archbishop told me over lunch in New York that he was equally concerned with the influence of the old paganism deeply rooted in African tradition and the new paganism exported by liberal Westerners. Africa has its own moral challenges, including issues of sexual morality, but it is highly resistant to preachments from the West demanding celebration of homosexuality.

Two more issues demand consideration. First, what does President Biden mean when he says that the Ugandan law is “a tragic violation of universal human rights?” What is he talking about? There is no universal human right to commit homosexual acts. So, what specific “right” does he invoke here? This looks like yet another example of the empty “rights talk” that makes sense only in the ideological world of the political left.

There is room for eager debate over the extent to which sexual morality should be made law, even among moral conservatives in the United States. But all laws concerning human sexuality, sexual behaviors, and sexual relationships will be based upon some moral foundation. The only real question is whose morality and what moral foundation.

The Ugandan law’s moral stance seems to have been formed in agreement with the archbishop of the Church of Uganda and the nation’s parliament, and not with the United Nations—or the current president of the United States. That should not come as a surprise.

This article originally appeared at WORLD Opinions on June 2, 2023.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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