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The History Of Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill

MICHEL MARTIN, host: We are going to continue this conversation now, about that controversial legislation in Uganda. And we turn now to E. Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College. That's a Christian college. He's been blogging about the bill and following its progress closely since it was first introduced in 2009. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

E. WARREN THROCKMORTON: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: Now, we just finished speaking with David Bahati, the member of parliament behind this bill. And I know that you heard that conversation and you heard how he really feels that this is, in part, his duty as a Christian to advance this, because he feels that homosexuality is violative of Christian principles. And so I wanted to ask, what is your response to that?

THROCKMORTON: I'm an Evangelical Christian too, and I don't think that the state should necessarily reflect my viewpoint. My view is the view of Jesus, who had many opportunities to be punitive with those he disagreed with and yet he was very welcoming and forgiving and open. There are many different ways to look at this and David Bahati's is certainly, in my view, in the minority among Evangelicals.

MARTIN: Many people may not remember this, but there were three Christian Evangelical ministers who traveled to Uganda for a conference at around the same time that this bill was first being developed. And one of the reasons this bill has gotten so much attention in the United States, in part because of the draconian measures called for, but also because of the involvement of these three ministers at the time that this measure was being debated.

Now, we've talked to one of the people who made that trip and he said that he feels that that attitude is patronizing. That the idea that Ugandans don't know what they want for their country, in his view, is ridiculous. And that they really had nothing to do with it. And I wondered if you buy that perspective.

THROCKMORTON: I think the relationship is complex. The bill was already conceived before those three men went there. In a way, they were there as a means to raise public awareness about what was perceived by the Ugandan hosts as the need for the bill. And evidence for that, there were a number of questions asked by the attenders about should we toughen laws, what should we do about the laws? I mean this was on their mind. And then a week after the conference there was a concerned citizens group that met and these were people from the conference that met and one of the recommendations that came out of the conference was to toughen the laws against homosexuality.

But they didn't help anything. When they went in there, they didn't present accurate information about homosexuals. They didn't present scientific data that would've countered the kind of thing you just heard from David Bahati. They didn't do what they could've done to offset what has become a worldwide terrible situation.

MARTIN: Today's a national holiday in Uganda, in part because it's the presidential inauguration day. President Museveni is going to be sworn in, again, as president. The long-serving leader of that country. And so the parliament will be meeting again tomorrow. If this bill passes, what will you do next? What will you do then?

THROCKMORTON: I think the next step will be, what will the president do with the bill? And advocates will be focusing their attention on the executive branch there and asking Museveni to return the bill to parliament. He has that ability. He can either assent to it or he can return it with suggestions. What's really unclear, is what will happen if he does because they only have about a week - less than a week left in their parliament.

On the 18th it expires. So if he returns it before the expiration and they don't send it back to him, he can send it back yet again. He has the ability to send it back twice. So all that maneuvering could lead to the bill either being, again, changed, or not assented to.

MARTIN: And, finally, I wanted to ask you about something that David Bahati said, as he put this in the context of mutual, cultural respect. I mean his argument is that it's fine if you in the West have a different perspective on this. It's fine if other countries have a different perspective on this. But we here in this country - and he is an elected leader of that country - says this is immoral and therefore we feel that it's appropriate to legislate against this and you should stay out of it. So, how do you respond to that?

THROCKMORTON: I think in this case, since David Bahati and the other supporters have raised this as a religious issue, it's perfectly reasonable for people of religious faith in other parts of the world to raise their objections. Also, other governments of the world have an investment in Uganda. Tax dollars are going there. And I think people who give those tax dollars might have some concern about how they're used. So, in principle I think we do respect the sovereignty of other nations. But there is some responsibility that goes along with the relationship that partners have. And in this case we have a responsibility to express our opinion.

MARTIN: E. Warren Throckmorton is a professor at Grove City College. That's a Christian college. He's been blogging about and following closely, the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda that we have just been talking about. He joined us on the line from his office in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Professor Throckmorton, thank you so much for joining us.

THROCKMORTON: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.