The state of Arizona and the East African nation of Uganda don’t have much in common.
But there is one area in which the two are remarkably similar: They both tend to have backward, bigoted political leadership.
That has never been more evident than in what we have witnessed in the last couple of weeks, during which the Ugandan president signed into law an anti-gay bill that included life in prison for certain acts, and the Arizona legislature sent an anti-gay bill to its governor that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against homosexuals.
In each case supporters of the legislation invoked religion as the basis of their prejudicial action.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, after threats of economic boycotts and the possibility of losing the Super Bowl next year, vetoed the bill, but not before the state once again had cast itself as a bastion of intolerance. There are other recent examples of that which I’ll get to later.
Pressure from other foreign countries and the United Nations, including withdrawal of economic aid, did not keep Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni from signing a bill that would send a person to prison for life if found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” – having sex with minors, “serial offenders” or a person infected with HIV having sex, even if consensual and protected.
The bill, which originally included the death penalty, outlaws same-sex relations outright, but also calls for jail time for those who aid or counsel homosexuals.
Since 2009, after some American Christian evangelists warned Ugandan leaders about the ills of homosexuality, there has been a push to toughen the anti-gay laws there, with some in parliament pledging to get a bill passed “in time for Christmas” of 2012. They didn’t make that deadline, but did pass it Dec. 23, 2013, and Museveni signed it Feb. 24.
A $90 million loan to Uganda for its health system has been suspended by the World Bank, and Norway and Denmark have said they would withhold funding because of the law, according to Reuters news service.
You may think I’m overreaching to compare Arizona’s actions to the homophobia being exhibited in the African nation, but I’m not. In some ways what legislators there did was to use the guise of Christianity as a way to codify discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.
Proponents of the legislation claimed it was not anti-gay, but a way to allow Christians to practice religious freedom by refusing to do business with those whose lifestyles conflict with the business owners’ faith.
Sixty years ago, owners of businesses in the South made basically the same argument, claiming their rights were being violated if they could not refuse service to blacks based on long-held, and sometimes Bible-referenced, beliefs.
Arizona’s intolerance is well documented. Its series of an anti-immigration laws, particularly the one that legalizes racial profiling, speak clearly to that. Those acts have caused many groups to avoid traveling to or doing business in that state.
One would have thought the state would have learned from its experience 25 years ago when its leaders, and later the electorate, refused to recognize the Martin Luther King holiday. In addition to losing major conventions and tourists, Arizona lost the 1993 Super Bowl when the NFL moved it to Pasadena.
After passage of this most recent legislation, the economic dominoes began to fall quickly, and the NFL began to look at alternatives for next year’s Super Bowl, which is set to be played in Glendale, Ariz.
In this latest show of discrimination, Arizona leaders permitted their economic interest to trump their bigotry.
But understand that the governor’s veto, while stopping enactment of an unjust law, will not erase the stain that Arizona carries because of its repeated demonstrations of intolerance.
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via email at [email protected].