Supporters of Mitt Romney Are Pushing Ultra-Conservative Christian Agendas in Africa That Criminalize Gays and Threaten Women's Health
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On Friday, Andy Kroll at Mother Jones reported on Jay Sekulow and Jordan Sekulow, the father-son team leading the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), high-profile social conservatives and advisors and supporters of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, working to overcome the candidate’s enthusiasm gap within the right-wing evangelical community. The article highlights findings from my recent Colonizing African Values report, exposing that ACLJ is leading the drive to enshrine U.S. Christian Right principles in African law through its offices in Zimbabwe and Kenya, including barring abortion even when the woman’s life is at risk, and ensuring gay sex (a “pervasion” equated with bestiality) is criminalized. These appalling actions abroad have too long gone without condemnation.
The ACLJ’s stated goal in Africa is to “lobby parliament[s] to take the Christian’s views into consideration as they draft legislation and policies.” [i] In Zimbabwe, where a constitutional reform process is underway as the nation waits for a vote to be scheduled, ACLJ-Zimbabwe is partnering with that country’s evangelicals and Pentecostals as a political force and a potential base for the Mugabe government’s homophobic policies, with the goal of making it a “Christian nation.” In 2010, Sarah Posner reported that with its ally the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the ACLJ distributed pamphlets that called “for constitutional prohibitions on both abortion, by defining life as ‘beginning at conception,’” and on attempts to reform the country’s laws criminalizing homosexuality.
The document calls for defining marriage “as being between a man and a woman” and for “any and all definitions of a family or marriages or relationships or legal unions that seek to include or permit same-sex unions to be prohibited,” as well as for “sexual relations between partners of the same-sex, bestiality, and other perversions to remain a criminal activity [emphasis added].” [ii]
The chairman of the ACLJ's office in Zimbabwe, Alex Chisango, joined Mugabe and his cabinet in a ceremony inaugurating the constitution-reform process, leading the group in an opening prayer.[iii] Even though Mugabe had criminalized homosexuality in 2006, the ACLJ, along with EFZ and other allies, wanted to make sure the Constitution didn’t create any loopholes. While Article 4:6:3 of the draft constitution defines marriage as between a man and woman, it also prohibits discrimination based on various social, economic, religious, and "natural differences or condition," a phrase that ACLJ and other religious and political leaders object to as potentially permitting homosexuality. [iv]
ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow met personally with Robert Mugabe's vice president John Nkomo and other leaders of the “unity government,” [v] telling a Christian Broadcasting Network reporter, “the unity government did open the window for U.S. groups like the ACLJ.” [vi] The ACLJ lobbied the Obama Administration to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe -- which the international community levied because of Mugabe’s human rights abuses and refusal to step down after losing an election in 2008 -- perhaps as modest payback for the access and influence ACLJ won in that tortured nation. [vii]
Unfortunately, that influence fanned the flames of the continent-wide anti-gay campaign that led to the murder of gay activists David Kato in Uganda in 2011 and Maurice Mjoba in Tanzania in July. And just this August, I heard directly from an on-the-ground activist about Mugabe’s “unity” government’s brutal round-up of gay activists who oppose his drive to criminalize homosexuality, winning the condemnation of the U.S. State Department and forcing the country’s leading LBGT group to basically stop operations. [viii]
The Sekulows are only the most recent Christian Right figures who manage to maintain credible reputations in the United States while taking actions overseas that would not be acceptable at home. A few years ago that role was held by Rick Warren, the California evangelist who offered a prayer at President Obama’s inauguration. Warren told African allies that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. [ix] Under pressure, Warren was forced to rebuke those allies who were backing Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill that would have given the death penalty for something called “aggravated homosexuality.” [x]