Thomas Sutcliffe: No dignity in this pretence of unity

These proposals are the sexual equivalent of the Nuremberg Laws

Tuesday 01 December 2009 01:00 GMT

You probably – you poor dupe – have always believed that the Nazis were violently intolerant of homosexuality. But Scott Lively, author of The Pink Swastika, would like to put you right. In his book, Lively argues that far from being anti-gay many of the leaders of the party – including Adolf Hitler – were homosexual and that their sexual preferences directly contributed to Nazi atrocities.

The gays weren't victims of the Nazis, in other words – they were the Nazis and they're still at large. Lively is president of a conservative evangelical group called Defend the Family and earlier this year he was among a group of American evangelical preachers, anti-gay activists and "former homosexuals" (their term) who addressed Ugandan parliamentarians and evangelicals, hoping to stiffen their opposition to the slim prospect of increasing gay rights. To legalise homosexuality, Lively reportedly told them, was akin to legalising "the molestation of children or having sex with animals".

The efforts of these pious haters certainly paid off. The Ugandan parliament is considering a private member's bill which will introduce the death penalty for "serial offenders" and impose a prison sentence of three years on anyone who knows of homosexual activity and does not report it. And whether the bill passes or not the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of the intolerance towards gay people in that country. These proposals are the sexual equivalent of the Nuremberg Laws and it isn't hard to imagine what might follow on their heels were they to pass into law.

Whatever its roots in the culture of Ugandan life this hatred has been nourished by missionary religion – and not just the wilder fringes of American evangelism. In a recent address the Bishop of Bristol quoted a remark attributed to Henry Orombi, the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, to the effect that he was "horrified to learn that homosexuals are trying to convert people to homosexuality in our schools". Another Anglican Bishop, Joseph Abura, has drawn an explicit parallel between gay people and wizards, and this in a country where witch-hunts frequently end in murder.

So far the Church of England has not made any formal condemnation of this pogrom in the making. The official statement from Lambeth was this: "It has been made clear to us ... that attempts to publicly influence either the local church or political opinion in Uganda would be divisive and counter-productive. Our contacts ... with the local church will therefore remain intensive but private." Which is odd really, since there are churches which have decided that tactical silence and behind the scenes persuasion simply won't do any longer.

Last week the United Reform Church condemned the proposed legislation as "morally repugnant". More curious still was an open letter from an evangelical group called Exodus International, addressed to President Yoweri Museveni, which argued that the laws would make it impossible to "extend the love and compassion of Christ to all". Ugandan gays could be forgiven for being a little wary of this particular form of "compassion" because Exodus International is another of those groups whose religious homophobia has resulted in their current plight.

But if even they can directly address the question it's hard to understand why Lambeth hesitates – unless the "division" that the Archbishop is really worried about is not between the citizens of Uganda, but between branches of the established church. The bad news is that that division already exists and Rowan Williams' attempts to keep one foot on either side while pretending it isn't there are increasingly undignified. There will come a point when that pretence becomes shameful, and it isn't far off.

Bringing good manners to an unruly jungle

I haven't exactly been following the current series of I'm A Celebrity... with slavish attention but I've watched enough of it to be mildly dismayed by the pre-emptive abdication yesterday of George Hamilton – a prospective King of Jungle since he went into the bush.

George's filmography is almost miraculously devoid of films of any merit and I'd previously only really been aware of him as a startling combination of white teeth and permatan (a gestalt acknowledged by Doonesbury's fictional competitive tanning event "The George Hamilton Pro-Am Celebrity Cocoa Butter Open").

But he was utterly engaging in I'm A Celebrity... – courteous and funny and self-deprecating. Bizarrely, given the amount of time he appears to devote to maintaining his appearance, there didn't seem to be a lot of vanity in him. The impression given was of an impeccably mannered old gentleman who had accidentally been incarcerated in Bedlam but wouldn't dream of causing a fuss or saying anything that might offend the other inmates.

That sense of period charm was only enhanced by his cultivation of a Douglas Fairbanks moustache, which he spent quite a bit of time grooming. It won't be a lot quieter without him but it will be a lot less courtly.

The shameful case of the drunken elk

The novelist Graham Greene once wrote a short story called The Shocking Accident about a schoolboy whose father had been killed by a pig falling off a Neapolitan balcony. The point of the story, as I remember it, was that he could never describe the circumstances of his father's death without the fear that the listener might let out an inappropriate laugh.

I found myself thinking of it when I read the story of Ingemar Westlund, who went looking for his wife after she failed to return from walking the dog in woods near their Swedish home. Westlund found her lying dead and when he called the police he was immediately arrested and held in custody as the principal suspect.

It was only 10 days later, after forensic scientists had discovered elk hair and elk saliva on her body, that he was released. It's now believed that the animal, which would normally be expected to trundle off into the undergrowth at the first sniff of human presence, may have become aggressive after eating fermented apples. Which leaves Mr Westlund not only grieving for his loss but, like the boy in Greene's story, having to work out some dignified way of conveying to interested parties that death came in the form of an intoxicated elk.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in