This is exactly what I was worried about. By taking the death penalty out of the Uganda anti-homosexuality bill, the government has improved the bill's reputation, and its chances.
The Minister of Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo said the government supports the bill because homosexuality and lesbianism are “repugnant to the Ugandan culture,” but wanted a more “refined” set of punishments. Death was too much, so the refinements include life in prison and reeducation.
Whether the punishment is sufficiently refined or not, Buturo articulates the rotten core of this bill: a heterosexual majority running roughshod over the dignity of a very small, and very vulnerable minority for no reason other than political dominance. And heterosexuals can get swept into the vortex; the bill imposes a regime of controlled speech and opinion, where objections to homosexuality may be freely uttered, but support is prohibited.
I don’t know about Ugandan culture, but that abuse of power is repugnant to any civilized government. And I am afraid our heated rhetoric has not helped. To my mind, at least, this was never about the death penalty; it was always about the discrimination. But after we set the stage with our focus on government murder, the bill now looks, to many people, ever so much more reasonable. We may have cause to regret our inadvertent aid in making that happen.
While I understand Mr. Link's concerns -- surely no one should be celebrating life imprisonment for being gay -- I also wonder whether or not any of this would have come to the media's attention if it were not for the journalists who were highlighting the "death to gay people" clause of the bill. Rachel Maddow, who has been in the forefront of this issue, certainly focused on the death penalty. Now, however, she seems to be digging deeper and calling attention to other heinous aspects of the law, including connections with the United States. As long as the journalists who drew attention to the death penalty aspects of the bill don't let up -- and I don't think they will -- we may be able to address the other punishments included in the bill. It's a horrible story all around, but we need to keep pushing.
Whatever the case, thanks David Link for your thoughtful piece.