Calif. Senate Condemns Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Pictured above from left to right: Geoff Kors, Exec.Dir.,Equality California; Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson; Bishop Christopher Senyonjo; State Senator Mark Leno; The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Vice President of National and International Affairs for Intergrity. (Photo: Equality California)

The California State Senate passed a resolution on Monday condemning Uganda's proposed anti-homosexuality bill and calling on the state's religious community to work for tolerance and equal rights of the LGBT community.

The measure, sponsored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Equality California, passed the Senate by a 21-14 vote. The resolution includes a call on the U.S. State Department to increase its efforts in encouraging the decriminalization of homosexuality around the world.

"The Senate deplores and condemns all acts of violence, in both word and in action, that use the government as an instrument of discrimination, persecution, and legislating against the LGBT community and its supporters," the resolution stated.

"The U.S. government must do everything in its power to stop the bill before the Uganda legislature that would lead to the criminalization and even death of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. "The California Senate has taken an important step in passing this resolution, which will help raise awareness of the crisis in Uganda and will put the state on record in support of the U.S. government strengthening its efforts to end the criminalization of LGBT people worldwide."

Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill was introduced by Ugandan minister David Bahati in October 2009 and carries punishments for offenders ranging from three years in prison to death.

Under the bill, a three-year prison sentence would be given to those convicted of failing to report homosexual behavior while a life in prison sentence could be issued for anyone engaging in gay sex.

The death penalty is set aside for those convicted of "aggravated homosexuality" where one or more participant is a "serial offender," HIV-positive, a minor, or a disabled person.

The bill has received widespread condemnation from a number of religious and political leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, mega-church pastor Rick Warren, and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has also distanced himself from the bill, saying it does not represent the views of the government.

Some observers have seen leaders in the American religious community, including Abiding Truth Ministries President Scott Lively, as having influenced the introduction of the bill.

Lively had led a heated anti-gay workshop in Uganda just one month before the bill was introduced.

While not mentioning Lively or others by name, the Calif. Senate resolution mentioned that some American religious leaders are guilty of "fomenting fear and discrimination" against Uganda's LGBT community.

"These same religious leaders have supported policies and programs that have prevented the LGBT community from having access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS information and services," the resolution said, adding that there is a "growing movement, supported and funded by some United States-based religious groups, to further criminalize homosexuality globally and make it an offense to provide services and support to LGBT people, their families, and supporters."

To respond to such influence, the Senate encouraged a more careful review of all U.S. funding and resources given to faith-based organizations in foreign countries and asked the U.S. State Department to censure American citizens and organizations that "contravene American foreign policy by demonstrated exportation of fear and misinformation to other countries."

"It is egregious that radical religious leaders from our nation are working to spread fears about and discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda," said Sen. Leno. "These deplorable actions have encouraged violence, and even death against Ugandans."

"This resolution is a simple human rights appeal urging President Obama and our federal leaders to call for the decriminalization of LGBT people, not only in Uganda, but across the globe," he added.

The resolution did mention one religious leader in a positive light - the Rev. Chrstopher Senyonjo, retired Anglican Bishop of West Uganda, who has been touring the United States and Europe to bring attention to the plight of Uganda's gay community.

"The legislation commends Reverend Christopher Senyonjo...for his work and ministry to create an inclusive church and society in Uganda free from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

In an e-mail to the Rev. Albert Ogle, Vice President of National and International Affairs for Episcopal gay caucus Integrity, Senyonjo called the resolution one that is "needed as we work tenaciously towards equality for all human beings."

Ogle, who met with Senyonjo during his tour, said that the retired bishop "left an impression on all those who met him whether it was people in the pews, crowds cheering in Pride parades or white house staffers…everyone is now much more aware of the crisis for LGBT folks in Uganda."

"We still have much work to do," Ogle added, "but we are encouraged by the support given us from the secular community and especially the California State legislature and my colleagues at Equality California."

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