TIME Is Right And TIME IS Wrong
December 5th, 2012
There is so much to love about Tim Padgett’s column in TIME magazine this week. Padgett, a Catholic, examines the rhetoric of the Church and of conservative Christians generally demonizing gay people in the U.S. during recent marriage campaign, and, noting the influence some American Christians have in Uganda, connects their rhetoric to what’s happening there now:
No, the real question that conservative Christians from Florida to France to Fiji need to ask themselves at this point is this: By crusading to deny gays and lesbians the right to legally marry — by insisting that God doesn’t consider loving gay unions morally worthy of matrimony and therefore the state shouldn’t either — do they risk demonizing “the phenomena of homosexuality” as inhumanely as the Ugandans are? It’s of course a good thing that the Vatican has condemned the “abuse of homosexual persons.” But as a Catholic, I’m all too aware that Pope Benedict XVI has also said that saving humanity from homosexuals is as crucial as saving rain forests from lumberjacks. And that a Vatican spokesman, after last month’s pro-gay-marriage votes in the U.S., made the equally cruel remark that gay marriage is a slippery slope to polygamy. Don’t blame Ugandan Catholics if they’re getting dangerously mixed signals from Rome.
Still, conservative Christians will claim that St. Paul’s denunciation of homosexuality leaves them no scriptural wiggle room. But St. Paul also condoned slavery, and I think we can safely say Christianity has managed to wiggle out of that one, just as Jews today feel O.K. about ignoring the Torah’s edict to stone nonvirgin brides to death. Like everything else in life, religion has to evolve. If it doesn’t — if it remains as rigidly static as so much Christian doctrine has so far in the 21st century — it risks the irrelevance it increasingly faces in the U.S.
Padgett’s argues that Christianity is in danger of not just being on the wrong side of history,but also “on the wrong side of Christianity, as Ugandan Christendom is this Christmas.” It’s a compelling thought-provoking piece. But, it’s one that’s marred in its setup with these factual errors which — you know me — I can’t let go:
The anti-homosexuality bill speeding through Uganda’s parliament right now — which that body’s Speaker has pledged will pass by year’s end as a “Christmas gift” to its backers — would impose draconian new punishments. Among them: a seven-year prison sentence for consenting adults who have gay sex, life sentences for people in same-sex marriages and jail for even those who don’t report gays and lesbians in their midst. Fortunately, Ugandan lawmakers say they’ve dropped the bill’s death penalty in cases of “aggravated homosexuality,” in which HIV is spread or gay adults have sex with minors.
Yeah. Fortunately the lawmakers say they made those changes, but unfortunately there is no basis whatsoever for taking them at their word. These lines seriously mar an otherwise splendid piece, and since TIME doesn’t seem to have an up-to-snuff fact-checking staff — maybe they took an early Christmas break — I’ll go ahead and do their work for them.
When members of the Legal and Parliamentary Committee emerged from their closed-door meetings two weeks ago, they announced that the lifetime sentence in Clause 2 was reduced to seven years and the death penalty in Clause 3 was changed to life imprisonment. And then they said this: they can’t show you their draft recommendations because, you know, it’s a secret.
Seriously. They said that.
Which means that we have no idea what the committee actually recommended. And that’s important because the last time the committee claimed that they recommended removing the death penalty from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2011, they lied. Completely, totally lied. Their report claiming the recommend removing the death penalty actually recommended that it be replaced with a reference to the penalty spelled out in Section 129 of the Penal Code — which calls for the death penalty.
But whatever the committee’s recommendations may be, under Uganda’s Parliamentary procedures committees do not have the authority to make any changes to the bill. They can only recommend changes to the full House. It is up to the House to accept the committees recommendations — or reject them, if they so desire — before any changes can be made to the bill. And since that hasn’t happened yet, the bill still remains exactly as it was on the day it was first introduced, death penalty and all.
Padgett also copied virtually line-by-line the bills’ supporters propaganda that the death peanlty only applied cases where “HIV is spread” or where sex with minors is involved. That has been M.P. David Bahati’s favorite line from the very moment he first introduced the bill in 2009. But a plain reading of the bill’s straightforward language, which is written in very simple English, renders that interpretation woefully inadequate:
3. Aggravated homosexuality.
(1) A person commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality where the
(a) person against whom the offence is committed is below the age of 18 years;
(b) offender is a person living with HIV;
(c) offender is a parent or guardian of the person against whom the offence is committed;
(d) offender is a person in authority over the person against whom the offence is committed;
(e) victim of the offence is a person with disability;
(f) offender is a serial offender, or
(g) offender applies, administers or causes to be used by any man or woman any drug, matter or thing with intent to stupefy overpower him or her so as to there by enable any person to have unlawful carnal connection with any person of the same sex,
(2) A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality shall be liable on conviction to suffer death.
(3) Where a person is charged with the offence under this section, that person shall undergo a medical examination to ascertain his or her HIV status.
Journalists have had a very sad history of getting this bill so very wrong so many times in its three year history. Padgett is identified as TIME’s Miami and Latin America bureau chief, which, the last time I looked at an atlas, doesn’t include Africa. So I guess he can be excused for getting these facts wrong. He gets an A for effort, if not for the final result. TIME’s fact-checkers, though, get a big fat red F. Which is a shame, because if they had just fixed those few sentences, Padgett’s column would have been stellar.