Officials in Uganda may be responding to our rhetoric rather than our rationale. Box Turtle Bulletin notes that amendments to the anti-homosexuality bill could replace the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" with a life sentence. That may be why BTB is now only referring to the bill as the "Anti-Gay Bill" rather than the "Kill Gays Bill."
But this is exactly why I was originally troubled by our inflammatory rhetoric that seemed to focus more on the penalty than the problem.
The death penalty is the ultimate government-sponsored punishment, and reveals the vicious and inhuman impulse behind the legislation. But even if the bill included only fixed prison terms, it is every bit as retrograde and malicious. It explicitly carves out homosexuality from the moral and legal universe. It establishes a civil world in which lesbians and gay men have no place; worse than that, it makes us criminals, and attempts to make even our supporters complicit in the crime of our mere existence. Citizens may not even speak favorably of homosexuality, or write affirmingly about equality without criminal sanction.
But to the extent America has any moral high ground on this issue, it is only a matter of degree. Both DOMA and DADT do implicitly what this bill is proud to say it does - invoke the force of the law to treat homosexuals as a different kind of being from heterosexuals, and draw specific rules that apply only to homosexuals, with entirely different rules applicable to heterosexuals. For any heterosexuals reading this, try to imagine a law that would result in your dismissal if you mentioned your spouse. Then imagine what it might be like if you could not publicly even testify before Congress about that law's unfairness, because even that would have the same result. And try to imagine what a law to allow you the qualified ability to speak might look like. Finally, imagine someone telling you this whole scheme is not a violation of your right to free speech.
To be sure, ours are only civil sanctions, not criminal ones, and the penalties are economic, psychological and social. That makes it easier for many heterosexuals to invoke a plausible deniability about the segregation the laws impose. No prison time here.
But irrespective of the kind of penalty, this is the most craven and degraded use of law. Fortunately, after many decades of work, we have the social and constitutional structure in the U.S. to minimize the damage, and fight for something better. I don't see anything like that to protect the homosexual citizens of Uganda.