Across the Atlantic, the president of the central African nation of Uganda has signed legislation that formally criminalizes homosexual conduct. Dubbed the "jail the gays" bill, this law would imprison people simply for engaging in consensual homosexual activity, with stiffer penalties for unrelated conduct like child molestation and incest.
It's tempting for privileged, white Americans to dismiss the Ugandan legal system as backward or savage. But all should remember that our own Supreme Court didn't formally prohibit the criminalization of private, consensual sexual conduct in America until 2003, in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. Lawrence wasn't a unanimous decision, either. Three Justices, including two who are still on the bench, opposed the ruling on states' rights grounds. According to Justices Scalia and Thomas, Texas was well within its bounds when it criminalized private sexual relationships.
Today, as more and more courts are striking down state bans on same-sex marriage, the drumbeat of opposition grows louder with familiar rhetoric about religious freedom, the will of the people, protecting the children, and state sovereignty. Federal court decisions are seen as foreign interventions into the sacred domain of individual states, justly ruled by the majority votes of pious Christian citizens.
This rhetoric is not unique to the United States. Uganda's president uses the same talking points as his American anti-gay counterparts. For example:
[Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni] was in combative mood in a speech after the signing and while answering questions from journalists. He suggested that the law was made necessary by arrogant western groups promoting a behaviour that threatens Ugandans’ “way of life”...
Museveni says Uganda wants work with the West but “they cannot force us to do something which is fundamentally wrong”.
The question for us is whether organizations such as the Family Foundation of Kentucky agree with the president of Uganda. Do domestic organizations still long for the days when police officers could raid the homes of American homosexuals looking for evidence of private sexual activity deemed criminal by majority votes? Or have they embraced the ruling of Lawrence and resigned themselves to futile resistance to same-sex marriage?
Should the United States be more like Uganda, or does our Constitution and our supposed embrace of liberty and freedom set us apart from other nations who would jail their own citizens for private, consensual behavior?