Anti-gay legislation divides bishops in Africa

07 February 2014 | by Ellen Teague

A Catholic newspaper in South Africa has published an editorial condemning legislation against homosexuals in some African countries that has been supported by the Churches there.

The Southern Cross, a weekly promoted by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, said on 29 January that new legislation in Nigeria and Uganda, and similar proposals in Cameroon and Tanzania, would be used to “persecute people on the basis of their sexual orientation”.

Same sex acts are already illegal in most African countries, but the Southern Cross calls upon the bishops of Africa “to stand with the powerless” and “sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalising homosexuals”.

However, Nigeria’s Catholic bishops issued a statement welcoming Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013, after President Goodluck Jonathan endorsed the new law in January, that outlaws same-sex marriages and public shows of same-sex affection. Those who go to gay clubs in Nigeria now face 10 years in jail and same-sex couples could face up to 14 years in prison.

In December, Ugandan MPs passed a bill increasing sentences for homosexual acts to life in jail and making it punishable by a prison term not to report gay people. The controversial legislation has yet to be signed into law by the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. Uganda’s Catholic bishops have been ambivalent about the bill, sometimes supporting it, sometimes speaking tentatively against it.

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