Monday, July 13, 2009

Don’t Face the Issues, Just Criminalize Them

Uganda is presently discussing an anti-homosexuality bill. Same sex relations are already against the law in Uganda (although same sex relations between females is not mentioned). The bill being discussed doesn't just ban same sex relations, it also bans publishing and distributing literature on homosexuality or 'advocating' for it.

There seems to be an assumption, which is far from uncommon, that people who have same sex relations actively 'recruit' people who would, if left alone, have remained heterosexuals. I find that assumption peculiar. It suggests that if those politicians, journalists, religious leaders and others who rail against same sex relations, could have turned out to be homosexuals themselves if they had been subjected to the influences of such 'recruitment'.

The minister for 'ethics and integrity' was interviewed on the subject and he seems to lump together "homosexuality, pornography, prostitution, human sacrifice, drug abuse, embezzlement and witchcraft" and feels that these are symptoms of society becoming permissive. Perhaps this minister should go back to school and learn to make very basic distinctions between what are very different concepts. But, sadly, I think he is just lacking in the sort of simple logic needed to engage in everyday life.

The issues he lumps together range from rare but horrendous crimes to common but undesirable ones. But he doesn't give any justification for his belief that homosexuality should be seen as a crime. Same sex relationships usually involve consenting adults. Not all sexual relationships involve consent and this is rightly seen as a crime, whether same sex or heterosexual. Pornography has many victims, as do prostitution and drug abuse.

Human sacrifice and witchcraft (aside from the mere suspicion that someone is a 'witch'!) are subjects that I am not able to comment on. But I should hope that human sacrifice is always punishable by law and that witchcraft is if it results in the breaking of laws.

But as for embezzlement, I wonder why the minister mentioned this crime. I can see why it is a crime but he seems to be worried about Uganda becoming a permissive society. Permissive societies do not permit embezzlement, not that I know if, anyhow.

The effect of criminalizing same sex relationships will give rise to discrimination against people engaging in them and against those thought to engage in them. It will increase the risk of crimes being committed against them. Surely, Mr Minister, you are opposed to crime and you would not wish to put forward legislation that will encourage it?

When it comes to preventing HIV transmission, criminalization of same sex relationships will make it more difficult to protect men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM are very vulnerable to being infected with HIV and are more likely to transmit it than those engaging solely in heterosexual relationships.

But this means that it must be made possible for MSM to be open about their sexual practices. If they are not open about their sexual practices it will not be possible to target this group with appropriate HIV reduction programmes. They will do everything they can to remain invisible, they will not be able to seek medical attention safely, they will not be protected by the law; they will become even more vulnerable than they are now and they will represent a greater obstacle to reduction of HIV transmission.

But I don't want this to be an argument for decriminalizing same sex relationships just because it helps control HIV. I simply don't think having sex with a person of the same gender should be seen as wrong. Of course it's wrong if one party doesn't want to take part but that should already be outlawed by laws against rape and sexual assault.

Clearly, prostitution and any kind of sex in exchange for goods, services, favours or whatever, is being entirely different. But criminalizing transactional sex (instances of it that are branded as 'prostitution', not all transactional sex, that would be impossible!) also faces the same problems as criminalizing same sex relationships, listed above. People involved in transactional sex, the ones this minister proposes punishing, are vulnerable. He is proposing making them far more vulnerable than they are already.

This minister for 'ethics and integrity' seems to have a serious problem with sex and sexuality and I don't think he is the most appropriate person for this ministerial brief. But perhaps he can learn; who knows? Perhaps his problem is with people who he sees as 'not like him'? Maybe he is a very praiseworthy man, morally, and thinks that everyone should be like him. But then he may be in for a surprise if he looks around his country, especially at his fellow leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, society leaders, etc.

The minister claims that people engaging in same sex relationships are abusing the rights of the majority. He is quite wrong, same sex relationships do not abuse any rights. On the contrary, he is trying to legalize the abuse of minorities. As for how many people in Uganda engage in same sex relationships? The present homophobic climate means that most people will not be open about their sexuality or about their opinion about the sexuality of others. The effects of his homophobia run deep and are long lasting.

As for the minister's call to religious leaders to 'fight immorality', he may wish to gen up on the record of some religious institutions when it comes to matters of sex and sexuality, even prostitution, embezzlement, pornography and other serious crimes. The trouble with people as perfect as this minister seems to be is that he may be in a very small minority himself.



Injeraz said...

Homosexuals should realize that some societies accept their lifestyle and some societies don't,simple. By and large Africans have never endorsed homosexuality and that goes for most societies throughout history. So they should not force everyone to endorse their activities. It is their CHOICE to engage in those activities, but tat doesn't mean everyone will agree with what they're doing.

Simon said...

I think homosexuals do realise that some societies don't accept their lifestyle, that's what they are trying to change.

Your sweeping statement about societies throughout history not 'endorsing' homosexuality may not be supported by evidence. But no one is trying to force anyone to 'endorse' anything. Homosexuals and many heterosexuals want homophobia to be a crime and they want same sex relationships to be decriminalised.

There is no question of everyone 'agreeing with what they are doing', the question is about discrimination and persecution. Discriminating against and persecuting people because of their sexuality is about as pointless as discriminating against them because they are left handed, though it could be a lot more damaging.

If you don't like same sex sex, don't do it, it's that simple. But I would expect you to be even more repulsed by the sort of stigma and persecution that has been directed at people for all sorts of things, race, religion, gender, etc.