A top Anglican cleric who was born in Uganda spoke out Thursday against a proposed law in his native country that would impose the death penalty on some gays.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu – who along with the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is one of the global fellowship’s most senior priests – condemned the anti-gay law now being considered by the East African nation’s parliament.
“I’m opposed to the death sentence. I’m also not happy when you describe people in the kind of language you find in this … bill,” he told BBC radio.
Although Sentamu seemed to suggest he was the first to attack the proposed law, Williams has also spoken out against it, telling The Daily Telegraph earlier this month that it was “shocking in its severity.”
“Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible – it seeks to turn pastors into informers,” he told the paper in an interview published Dec. 12.
The issue of homosexuality has triggered a debate that has divided the global 77 million-strong Anglican fellowship, including in the United States, where it has splintered the Episcopal Church.
In Thursday’s interview, Sentamu chose his words carefully, restating the content of a 2004 Anglican statement that condemned “the victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex.”
African churches have been at the forefront of the Anglican backlash against the blessings given to gay marriages and the ordination of gay bishops in the West. Uganda, whose population is nearly 40 percent Anglican, has become a rallying point for conservatives, with some U.S. Episcopal denominations switching their allegiance to the Church of Uganda following the 2003 ordination of openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson.
Sentamu said he and Williams had been in touch with his Anglican colleagues in Africa about the proposed law, which has aroused a storm of indignation worldwide. It is expected to go before parliament in the new year.
The bill would mandate a death sentence for sexually active gays living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni will not try to block the bill, his spokesman Tamale Mirundi said Thursday, although he did say the president would attempt to convince his National Resistance Movement Party, which has a majority in parliament, to not support it.
“President Museveni cannot block the anti-gays bill,” Mirundi said, saying that if he did so “he will have become a dictator.”