Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

I'm going to do something here that Catholics do all too seldom: I am going to speak out condemning a piece of legislation that opposes the practice of homosexuality.
The bill probably doesn't directly concern you and I but it highlights the need for Catholics to uphold both sides of the Church's teaching on homosexuality.
The proposed bill would provide increased penalties for homosexual behaviour in Uganda (gay sex is already illegal in Uganda) including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" (i.e. homosexual relations with a person under eighteen, homosexual relations with a disabled person, any homosexual relations if the accused is HIV positive, and "serial" offenses.) It also provides substantial penalties for any group or organization that promotes homosexuality, and for any authority who fails to report known violations of the act.
It is an interesting piece of legislation, because it is one in which the spirit is -- in many respects -- quite laudable, but the letter is dangerous and unjust. The goals, outlined in the early portion of the bill, are to safeguard the traditional family, to protect the culture and values of Uganda, and to safeguard people (particularly children) from pro-gay propaganda flowing in alongside Western aid. So far, so good. Another obvious, but not explicitly outlined goal is clearly the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS through homosexual relations -- this is a particular concern in Africa because same-sex attracted people do not generally gay-identify or live a gay lifestyle; most same-sex attracted Africans are married, which means that if they contract HIV homosexually, they may infect their wife/children.
The moral difficulties, from a Catholic perspective, lie with the application of the death penalty, and the idea of a penalty for people who fail to inform on others whom they know to be guilty. It is here that we arrive at the other side of Catholic teaching on homosexuality: the teaching that while homosexual sex is intrinsically immoral, homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (CCC 2358)
It is important, if Catholics are going to bring the Gospel into the lives of homosexuals, that this second part of our teaching be upheld and proclaimed just as vociferously as the condemnation of homosexual relations. It is because we too often fail in this respect that we are painted as homophobic. The proposed Ugandan legislation not only represents unjust discrimination, it would also -- by virtue of its provision that authorities must report or face fines and imprisonment -- make it even more difficult for Ugandans dealing with same-sex attractions to seek out spiritual advice and counsel from their priests and pastors. Increased fear of persecution isolates those who are most in need of support, it drives homosexuality underground and prevents people with homosexual desires from being able to deal with their temptations within the context of a supportive, moral, Christian community.

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