Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who was born in Uganda, has condemned the country’s plans to introduce the death penalty of life imprisonment for gays.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, he criticised the “victimising” language in the bill and said the communion was “committed” to listening to the experiences of gay people.
He said he was opposed to the death penalty and added: “I’m also not happy when you describe people in the kind of language you find in this private member’s bill, which seems not only victimising but also a diminishment of the individuals concerned.”
Sentamu detailed the country’s current laws for “aggravated” sexual crimes such as underage sex and said: “The trouble is it tends to confuse all of homosexual relationships with aggravated stuff [and] then that’s a problem.”
The “aggravated” crimes include gay sex with a minor, a disabled person or while infected with HIV. The private member’s bill called for the death penalty in these circumstances, although Uganda’s ethics minister said this week that life imprisonment was a more likely option.
Sentamu continued: “The reason why [the Archbishop of] Canterbury and I haven’t actually come out publicly and said anything is not because we don’t want to say anything – because the position is very clear – but rather because we’re trying to help, we’re trying to actually listen.
“But sometimes people have not understood that actually the law in Uganda at the moment, without this particular bill, does exactly the same thing.”
He added: “People may have very clear, what I call traditional, views about homosexuality but we as a communion are committed to listening to the experiences of homosexual people.
“You can’t do that on one hand and then have language [in the bill] which in many ways seems to suggest homosexual people are not the children of God.
“They deserve the best we gave give in pastoral care and friendship. And I’m quite sure that the response the Church of Uganda will make in due course will have to take into account all of these realities.”
Sentamu is the latest religious leader to speak out about the bill. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams appeared reluctant to speak publicly until this month, when he called the bill “shocking” and said no Anglican who had been listening to the communion in the last decade could support it.
Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, said this week that the death penalty could be removed in favour of life imprisonment, which he said would allow gays to be rehabilitated.
He denied that the move was due to pressure from western powers, saying the conclusion had been reached during consultations with those such as church leaders.