By any measure, last week's election marked a watershed moment in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement. The most pro-LGBT president in American history was reelected, marriage equality won at the ballot box for the first time (in three states!), Minnesota beat back a proposed amendment that would have written marriage discrimination into the state constitution, and the 113th Congress will contain a record number of out LGBT lawmakers, including Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, who was the first out member of our community ever elected to serve in the United States Senate.
These historic victories came despite weeks of concerted attacks against President Obama and LGBT equality from America's Catholic bishops, attacks that were, to the best of my memory, unprecedented in both their stridency and overt partisanship. Green Bay Bishop David Ricken and Springfield, Ill., Bishop Thomas Paprocki both told Catholics in their respective dioceses that voting for candidates who support marriage equality, reproductive choice and stem cell research were putting their eternal souls in jeopardy -- essentially telling the faithful that if they voted Democrat, they were going to hell. Other bishops, like John Myers of Newark and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, declared that sexually active LGBTs and pro-marriage-equality Catholics were unfit to present themselves for Communion. And earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI publicly endorsed these spiritual bullying tactics in an address delivered to a group that included Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, one of the most enthusiastically outspoken proponents of Minnesota's failed amendment effort.
Against this putrid backdrop, American Catholics did what they've learned to do on other issues like contraception: They ignored the bishops and voted with their consciences. And in a stinging rebuke of the prelates who lead them, a majority of American Catholics voted to reelect Barack Obama. To this former Catholic, the public backfiring of the bishops' divisive anti-gay agenda was nothing short of divine.
But I was abruptly snapped out of my post-election euphoria by the incredibly disturbing news that the government of the central African nation of Uganda plans to pass its notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the end of this year. According to a report in The Washington Post, MP Rebecca Kadaga, speaker of the Ugandan parliament, insisted in an interview with the AP that Ugandans are "demanding" that parliament swiftly pass the bill, which would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death; punish same-sex Ugandan couples marrying abroad with lifetime prison sentences when they return home; outlaw all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people, including the provision of medical care, lodging and basic services; and require citizens to report to the police any LGBT people they know. (Under the proposed law, refusing to report one's LGBT friends, neighbors and family members constitutes "aiding and abetting homosexuality," a crime that carries a 7-year jail sentence.) Some Christian leaders apparently went even further, perversely claiming that the bill's passage would be "a Christmas gift" to the nation.
Among those Christian leaders advocating for the passage of this barbaric bill are Uganda's Catholic bishops, according to reports filed this summer by New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive Catholic social justice organization. The bishops initially had opposed the bill because of its draconian sentencing provisions (while simultaneously lauding the government's efforts to "protect the traditional family and its values"), but they abruptly reversed themselves and signed an ecumenical statement supporting the measure. This support carries a lot of weight in this highly religious country, as the Catholic Church represents Uganda's single largest Christian denomination.
And how have their brother bishops in America -- so eager to engage in anti-gay politicking at home -- responded to this unmistakably un-Christian reversal? How are they reacting to their colleagues' endorsement of a bill that would bring horror, persecution and bloodshed to Uganda's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community?
With stone-cold silence, that's how.
The Vatican has remained largely silent, as well. In fact, the only time the Holy See even bothered to acknowledge the very real threat to the lives of LGBT Ugandans was in a statement it released in December 2009 opposing "all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons" and asserting that "the murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State." This was widely interpreted as a reference to Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill, but the Vatican refused to even mention Uganda by name. And now, in 2012, when the bill appears closer to passage than ever before, not a word.
America's Catholic bishops and their counterparts in Rome have a moral obligation to publicly, forcefully and unequivocally condemn Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill as a gross injustice, a crime against humanity and a reprehensible distortion of Jesus' loving and inclusive message. They cannot -- they must not -- stand by, silent and stone-faced, as thousands of Ugandans are condemned to death for the "crime" of simply being who they are.
To paraphrase the great and wise Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, silence in the face of injustice means one has chosen the side of the oppressor. If Catholic bishops remain silent and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill passes, the blood of murdered gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ugandans will be on their hands.
This piece originally appeared at the Bilerico Project.
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