It can be very depressing to read the news. The ethics and legality regarding homosexuality should be one of the simplest questions to resolve. No one’s personal autonomy is undermined and it has no negative effects on anyone who isn’t involved. It’s an entirely ethical practice and there is no reason for it to be illegal. Yet that’s the case in so much of Africa, with Nigeria recently making it illegal for homosexuals to even hold a meeting. A Ugandan anti-gay law was recently blocked by the President, which sounds like a positive step. However, it turns out that he blocked it because he thinks gays are defective and need to be helped to overcome it rather than being thrown in jail or killed. And, in Zambia, the government has rejected calls to provide condoms to prisoners to prevent the spread of STDs, asking, “What are they going to be used for?” The power of wilful ignorance.
So if the question of homosexuality should be so simple, why are so many African countries getting it wrong? A large part of it is due to religion. Africa is an extremely religious continent and religions are given a position to dictate moral values. It’s completely possible for a religion to be accepting of homosexuality but it’s just as easy for them, as in Africa, to be against it. That’s because religions are not true, they are man made and interpreted in whichever way best suits the person doing the interpretation. It shouldn’t be a surprise that most resistance to homosexuality comes from religious groups.
Islamic groups in Nigeria have defended the recent anti-gay laws. In that country there are also cases where Sharia courts are trying men for starting a gay club or where a man was lashed for being gay, a double travesty because homosexuality should not be a crime and corporal punishment should have ended decades ago. Christian churches haven’t done much better with African Anglican churches objecting to the Church of England’s views on the matter.
There are obviously other factors but I think religion is currently the dominant barrier to equality for all sexual orientations. The other major obstacle is a combination of traditions and a rejection of everything European as a backlash to colonialism. It’s kind of ironic because homosexuality is arguably more African than Christianity and because the Christianity which is now so widely embraced is a remnant of colonialism and European domination. This situation clearly demonstrates that religion doesn’t improve people’s morality; it impedes moral progress. Unfortunately, it will probably take even longer for religion to leave Africa than for it to leave the US.
In the meantime we will have to suffer through more stories of unnecessary suffering, awkward attempts at “science,” and the following story. I can’t quite decide whether this amusing or just sad. A Nigerian woman has disowned her cat for “unnatural sexual behaviour”, or being gay.
Edit: Shortly after posting I noticed the South African Human Rights Commission has called on the South African government to speak out against Nigeria’s new law. While we have legal equality for homosexuals in South Africa there is still a lot of homophobia which comes out in the form of “corrective rape.”