The National Catholic Review

Editors' Note: Since this editorial was published in March 2014, Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act was overturned by the constitutional court. Persecution against LGBT individuals, however, has continued, according to the Rev. Anthony Musaala, a Ugandan priest. 

With five now-famous words, “Who am I to judge?” Pope Francis offered a fresh embodiment of the Catholic teaching that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Tragically, we live in a world where people are not only judged harshly for their sexual orientation but are also targeted and punished for it. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni recently signed a bill that criminalizes and punishes “the promotion or recognition” of same-sex relationships. A first offense could result in a prison sentence of 14 years; repeated offenses could result in a life sentence. Nigeria had already enacted a law that prescribes a 10-year prison sentence for those who “directly or indirectly” make a “public show” of a homosexual relationship. The law also punishes those who are even marginally affiliated with gay clubs or similar organizations.

These laws have led to scores of arrests and have precipitated a wave of violence—often ignored by police—against anyone even suspected of being homosexual. The laws are so vague that anyone can be accused of being gay solely because of their speech, dress or friendships. Gay and lesbian people in these countries are living under a sword of Damocles, constantly afraid that they may be discovered and persecuted at any moment. Many are driven to despair, even suicide. It is clear that many factors have contributed to this situation: a deep-seated fear that homosexuality constitutes a mortal threat to society, a too-literal and highly selective interpretation of the Bible, popular African opposition to a neo-colonial imposition of “Western” liberal values and the interests of cynical politicians who want to strengthen their hold on power.

It is especially disturbing that such legislation is immensely popular in predominately Christian countries like Uganda, where 40 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and the Catholic bishops have sent mixed signals about the legislation. When the bill was first considered in 2009, Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga of Kampala, speaking on behalf of the Catholic bishops’ conference, said it was “at odds with the core values” of Christianity. When the bill was reintroduced in 2012, however, the Uganda Joint Christian Council, which includes Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox bishops, expressed support for the bill. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, meanwhile, has praised President Goodluck Jonathan for his “courageous and wise decision” to sign the new law in that country.

Christian concern for preserving the traditional institution of marriage cannot justify these excessive and punitive measures, which extend far beyond simply codifying a definition of marriage. It is not inconsistent, therefore, to support traditional marriage and to oppose these measures, which are unjustifiable assaults on the human rights and inherent dignity of gay and lesbian people. Lest anyone be led to believe otherwise, supporters of traditional marriage have, in fact, a special obligation to loudly denounce any unjust discrimination against homosexuals.

The church’s vigorous support for traditional marriage, moreover, must be accompanied by advocacy for the human rights of gays and lesbians in equal measure. This is required by the church’s own teaching. Indeed, a growing number of Catholic leaders have offered unqualified support for the decriminalization of homosexuality. In December 2009, the delegation of the Holy See to the United Nations said the church opposes “all forms of violence” and “discriminatory penal legislation” against gay persons. That same month, according to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Cardinal Antonelli Ennio, then-president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that Catholic bishops in Uganda “or anywhere should not support the criminalization of homosexuality.” Most recently, on Jan. 29, an editorial in The Southern Cross, the newspaper of the bishops of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, urged Catholics in Africa “to stand with the powerless” and “sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalizing homosexuals.”

We add our voice to this swelling chorus. Pope Francis has described gay people as “socially wounded” because “they feel like the church has always condemned them.” Catholics must examine how we contribute, perhaps even inadvertently, to a culture of fear and shame. In a field hospital after battle, a basic responsibility of the caregivers is to “do no harm.” The church must oppose violence against gay persons and should strongly advocate for the decriminalization of homosexuality. No one should be subject to a criminal penalty simply for being gay. If laws like these do not constitute the “unjust discrimination” against gay people that the church rightly denounces, then what possibly could?


RICHARD WILDE | 3/7/2014 - 5:13am

Thank you for this article. Pope Francis is not only a breath of fresh air but a more brilliant light along the often-dark path of Jesus. I have just read the interview with the Pope done in September. Truly, this Pope is what the Church has needed in a very, very long time.

BhaktiAnanda Goswami | 3/4/2014 - 6:59am

In Jesus Christ there is no male or female (sexism), no Greek or Jew (religious sectarianism or ethnocentrism), no slave or free (no class-ism), because ALL are ONE in Jesus Christ. We are not ONE as in being merged or obliterated as unique individual persons! In Jesus Christ we are relationally ONE IN LOVE. The Love of Christ, of the Most Holy Trinity, of Mary and the Saints...this Love makes us a single COMMUNITY in which we are part of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Rig Vedic Universal Yagna Purusha Yupa Dhvaja.

As there are countless species of life on Earth in which intersex and natural sex-reversal is common, and there are more than 30 known causes of a-typical sex differentiation in humans, why is the reality of intersex and natural sex-reversal never even addressed in these discussions, or in the legal deliberations of governments and religious bodies? In fact, there has been censorship and denial regarding human intersex and sex-reversal in the Catholic bio-ethics field. The eugenics sex-selection abortion of intersex and sex-reversed babies and the sex change surgeries routinely performed on helpless intersex and sex-reversed babies has been driven primarily by the religious demonization of atypically sex differentiated people. Homophobia is at the root of many societies' denial that intersex and sex-reversed people exist. These religious societies even attempt to erase us by abortion or unconsented 'corrective' surgeries, and shaming-us into invisibility and silence.

How many of us are there? We have been hidden as shameful things, even from ourselves, by our parents, doctors and religious authorities. But now, globally we are joining forces to stand-up for our most basic of human rights...the right just to BE. Statistically, if all variations are included, more than 1% of humanity is NOT simply a perfectly typical XX-female or XY-male. We are inter-sex, or we are naturally sex-reversed XX-males or XY-females. Out of 300,000,000 Americans, how many people is that?

Think about it, and about the fact that there is no just legal or correct medical way to categorize every single one of these atypical people as either a male or female. In fact, in some USA States the same person may be legally male, but considered female in other States.

I am a vowed celibate, but as an intersex person, with both male and female genetics, mixed gonads (ovitestes) and genitals, who could I be intimate with? Who would the Church allow me to love?

Same sex marriage? If NO ONE can medically and legally define a person's sex by chromosomes or gonads or genitalia, how can any law against 'same sex marriage' actually be enforced against the human reality of atypically sex differentiated people?

Here is my OII Letter to the White House ...

C Chase | 3/3/2014 - 8:57pm

1 John 4.8 - "Whoever does not love does not know God." As Augustine wondered: "What do I love when I love my God?" John Caputo points to love as "a giving without holding back, an 'unconditional' commitment"--a love that strives to honor the misfit - the "stranger" - the person at the margin, alone, vulnerable, stigmatized, in need of hospitality and a friend. Caputo, elsewhere, brings forward Meister Eckhart's prayer, appropriate for such a critical topic as the one raised by this piece: "I pray the God who can never be mastered and domesticated to rid me of the God whom I think I have in my sights, under control. I pray the God whose coming is always the coming of the stranger to rid me of the God who serves to keep guard over the circle of the same." A wise challenge for today from the experiences of a wise man who struggled with situations of his medieval once-upon-a-time.

Tom Wilson | 3/3/2014 - 12:36pm

In reply to the commenter who suggested that some do not want to admit that homosexuals exist, Bingo! Read this, "Against Heterosexuality" on how the words "heterosexual" and "homosexual" are recent social constructs that have essentially backfired on Catholic teaching.

Joe Kash | 3/2/2014 - 2:49pm

I would bet that the America Magazine editors would support the right of a pharmaceutical company to not sell certain drugs to states that have the death penalty. This whole issue has less to do with transcendent rights than it does with personal agenda.

Joe Kash | 3/2/2014 - 8:13am

There has been little mention or outrage about the NFL's threat to not do business with people that they morally disagreed with. I guess the NFL morality is in the majority now so it is ok. To bad for the minority.

STEVEN PAYNE | 3/1/2014 - 12:27pm

Before 2003, Will & Grace and a number of pro-gay programs were on television; movies such as "Making Love" were produced for commercial release decades before the Supreme Court struck down Texas sodomy laws. Where I live, it is very difficult to even try to organize an AIDS Walk team among Catholics, even though it violates no Catholic teaching. It seems both the laity and hierarchy want to act as though LGBT persons don't exist, which hardly helps in fulfilling the Great Commission.

BhaktiAnanda Goswami | 3/4/2014 - 8:09am

Greetings Steven Payne. Are you related to Richard Payne of the Catholic Arcadian Video Production Company? If so, your shows are very inspiring. I too am concerned with the Great Commission, and have spent my whole adult life (I am 65 now) 'toiling in the Mission Field' of the ancient Global Bhakti (Divine Love Devotional) Traditions, such as that of Vaishnavism (Gandhiji's faith). In a primal Revelation of His Second Person's Self-Sacrifice as the Universal Purusha, God has historically prepared ALL of the human family to receive the fullness-of-time Revelation of Jesus Christ! But, ethno-centrism, sexism and class-ism have scandalized the Church and made people suspect fear and hate Christians. Now is the time to change this! God is calling humanity to COMMUNITY IN CHRIST! He wants us to be inclusive, not exclusive any more.

Tom Wilson | 2/28/2014 - 5:17pm

The Church's position distinguishing same-sex attraction from same-sex sexual acts was reflected in the US legal system until 2003 when Lawrence v. Texas legalized sodomy. Up to that point, same-sex attraction was not a crime, but engaging in sodomy (heterosexual or homosexual) was a misdemeanor. A virtually unheard of prosecution of these crimes had the good effect of keeping sodomy out of the public domain, protecting children and those of confused sexual inclination from exposure to such immorality. It also kept it off of our TV sets, out of the news, and out of the movies. Those who wished to engage in such acts were not prohibited from doing so behind closed doors. The "what I do in my bedroom is my business" argument was provided for under those laws.

Criminalization of sodomy (as opposed to same-sex attraction) does not need to be elevated to the status of violent crimes, as is done in other countries, and I think the Church should express an opinion against the punishment but not necessarily the criminalization, per se. Part of the compassion that needs to be exhibited about those with same-sex acts should include promoting opportunities for those who wish to avoid the associated sexual acts of same-sex attraction. Encouraging and promoting one to act on their same-sex attraction without choice sets up people for what has proven to be a dangerous lifestyle for many men.

James Richard | 2/28/2014 - 4:35pm

The issue is complex and I really don't have the answer, but here are the questions going on in my mind.

Shouldn't the business owner have the freedom to refuse to be part of an "event," which his services are being sought after ?

Isn't discrimination against a person is different than refusing to be part of an event ?

What if a Catholic owner of a catering company is approached by an abortion organization, to provide food services for an abortionists convention ? Should the Catholic owner be forced to take the job, even though what the event promotes is against his religion ?

Does owning a business mean abandoning all your moral convictions ?

It seems to me that legislation could be written to protect a person from being forced to take part in an event which they object to, for whatever reasons, without allowing discrimination against individuals who belong to a certain group.

Marie Rehbein | 3/2/2014 - 4:35pm

If there's an event, usually businesses want the business. I know of nothing that mandates a company to take part in any event. It does not have to provide a reason for declining. It certainly would never have to say, "because I am morally opposed" to whatever it is. It seems like people want to make up scenarios for the sake of making themselves out to be victims when they aren't.

Joe Smith | 2/28/2014 - 1:11am

Before getting too emotional about this law that was not signed, please read Rich Lowry's excellent perspective...

There is a lot victim mentality in certain segment of our society...

"Eleven legal experts on religious freedom statutes — who represent a variety of views on gay marriage — wrote a letter to Gov. Brewer prior to her veto explaining how the bill “has been egregiously misrepresented by many of its critics.”

Marie Rehbein | 2/28/2014 - 11:49am

The politico article seems to have been written by someone with no understanding of how laws work. Just because the law did not state that it will be OK to discriminate based on one's religious feelings, doesn't mean that it wouldn't be used to support that type of behavior. It would, in fact, have supported the right of an individual working in the snack bar at the Superbowl, for example, to refuse to wait on someone who offended his or her religious feelings even if the employer did not share that belief.

David Pasinski | 2/27/2014 - 9:47am

It is encouraging that Governor Brewer had the common -or at least political- sense to veto the Arizona proposed legislation. Now will the Arizona bishops also recant their misguided support for such a law? Will their "brother bishops" publically publish some defense of human rights regardless of orientation. race, relgion, etc.? I doubt it... but one can hope.

David Pasinski | 2/26/2014 - 3:23pm

It is more than disgusting that the bishops conference of Arizona have encouraged the governor to sign that legislation. Where are the denunciations by fellow bishops? By this magazine? By all who recognize that this legislation, as written, can be used by anyone to refuse to anyone else of almost anything if they claim it is on "religious grounds." The Arizona bishops are sorry shepherds.

Jeanne Linconnue | 2/26/2014 - 9:35am

I would be interested to know how the editors of America would respond to the legislation in Arizona that legitimizes discrimination against gays by private businesses.

The Arizona law and those in Africa seem to differ only in degree, not in essence. In Africa, the state has used legislation to criminalize homosexuality. In Arizona the state is using the legal system to support discrimination. The African laws seem extreme, even to those who oppose civil marriage rights for gay people. But while the Arizona law on the surface seems less extreme, it also is an unjust law that legitimizes treating gays as less than equal human beings in the private sector.

Louis Candell | 2/26/2014 - 9:22am

I sincerely hope that at least a few of the self-righteous people who wrote in support of state sanctioned bigotry (see R.R. Reno's article re "Our Secular Future") read this article.

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn | 2/25/2014 - 4:07pm

Thank you for saying so clearly what must be said. Earlier today I read a Facebook thread that was all about the fallacy of the "hate the sin but the sinner," that still includes more hate and not nearly enough mercy.

Do we stand with the most outcast or do we stand where we are most comfortable? People can rationalize all they want about sexual acts and why they condemn certain acts, but the dignity of the human person is never served through hate. Ever. There is no dignity in hate and rejection, nor is there any in indifference or fear. Only solidarity and love will matter in the end.

We all need to ask where we will stand with this one.

Marie Rehbein | 2/25/2014 - 3:33pm

Yes, there is a moral duty to oppose the criminalization of homosexuals.

chuck thomas | 2/26/2014 - 2:06am

Yes--and it indeed goes beyond this. We need to acknowledge and challenge where the extremism of the religious right is taking us with regard to all forms of human rights violations--not only in Uganda but in Russia and elsewhere. The role that American evangelists have played in supporting and aiding this reprehensible hate-based legislation needs to be exposed and countered before it takes root in this country as well. If homosexuals are lured into fake dates and then severely beaten and abused and having the acts videotaped and used as recruiting aids for the perpetrators--all condoned by civil authorities (as has been reported in Russia)--where and when will it all end? The enormity of the out-of-control status of this homophobic insanity is well exhibited in Arizona. Craziness is truly at large and people need to start paying attention.

Marie Rehbein | 2/26/2014 - 9:21am

You are right. More is needed than not passing laws that give more power to those who would do harm. People need to be protected from those who already engage in hostile, antagonistic behavior.

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