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How Deep Is the Republican Christian Right's Connection to the Anti-Gay Bills Sweeping Sub-Saharan Africa?

As the horrific "kill-the-gays" bill resurfaces in Uganda, Republican politicians deny connections, but their rhetoric is frighteningly similar.

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Santorum has been nothing if not consistent on this issue. In 2003, he was even  less circumspect, saying, “We have...sodomy laws [in some states,] and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? Yes, I believe it does.”  

It’s unsettling to see a major candidate casually promote LGBT criminalization. That’s because his rhetoric is so close to that of these same leaders who are active proponents of harsher LGBT criminalization laws throughout sub-Saharan Africa. But it isn’t easy to uncover the connections, which are often shrouded in secrecy. 

We really just know one thing with certainty: Members of the Christian right in the United States are promoting human rights abuses against LGBT people throughout the continent. But it is not always possible to find specific information about what they do. Very few American evangelicals are willing to admit the extent of their involvement in the wave of anti-gay legislation sweeping Africa. Certainly, they might  express open support of the bill. But you won’t see them admit to providing financial support to these pastors, and you certainly won’t hear that they’ve been involved in country-specific criminalization campaigns. Conversations about these topics often involve a lot of hearsay and rumor.

It is downright impossible to trace the money trail. Barry Lynn, executive director of  Americans United for Separation of Church and State, tells me that “religious groups that intervene in political issues receive very little oversight in the United States.” It is even more difficult, he adds, to track “what religious groups spend overseas.”

Like all non-profits, religious organizations in the US are required to report basic expenditures on  IRS Form 990. But very little detail is required. An American missionary organization could go to Uganda to promote the Anti-Homosexuality bill, and resources used for this purpose could be recorded in the innocuous “other expenses” box. If pressed for more detail, a missionary group could use vague language like “outreach” or “overseas missions.”

As people in the US focus on the upcoming Republican primaries, Warren Throckmorton tells me, there is a veritable explosion of anti-gay organizing throughout sub-Saharan Africa. And very few journalists are talking about it. Throckmorton, a professor of psychology at Grove City College, is an evangelical Christian and former “ex-gay” advocate who now tracks anti-gay groups in the US that push for punitive anti-gay legislation throughout the world. He tells me that the bill has been influential well outside of Uganda’s borders.  Nigeria’s Senate passed very restrictive anti-gay legislation in November, and similar anti-gay campaigns are being introduced in Zambia, Malawi, Cameroon and elsewhere.

Much of our information about the Christian right’s role in spreading anti-gay hate in Africa comes from Uganda, where members of parliament continue to revive the  Anti-Homosexuality bill. The bill not only punishes LGBT people, but criminalizes heterosexual people who fail to expose their LGBT friends. They face up to three years in prison. And it doesn’t stop there. If convicted of a second offense, as activist Rob Tish has  shown, people could face execution for not reporting friends. The bill was tabled in November 2011 due to international pressure but was brought back as soon as the next legislative session began yesterday.

 
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