Michael Gerson

But it is not sufficient to argue that a practice should be illegal just because some -- even many -- regard it as wrong. Laws require a clear, public good. Absent that good, people can still advocate their moral views publicly and strongly. But their method should be persuasion, not coercion.

Which brings us to Uganda. The proposed law requiring the reporting and punishment of homosexuals is not only an improper role for government, it directly undermines the public good. Uganda is a nation still struggling with a 5.4 percent rate of AIDS infection. Laws like this one simply drive men who have sex with men underground. They don't learn prevention. They don't get tested for the virus. They don't receive timely treatment. They may continue to spread the disease to others. Public health authorities lose an accurate epidemiological picture of the disease itself, undermining their ability to craft a response. And the social stigma against AIDS is increased, making everyone less likely to be tested.

Ugandan supporters of the bill have dismissed international criticism as liberal, cultural imperialism. The sponsor of the bill, David Bahati, accuses gay rights groups in the United States and Europe of "engaging in a game of manipulation, deception and control."

But Ugandans should not be deceived into thinking that criticism comes only from gay rights advocates. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn calls the law "absurd." GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley describes it as an "un-Christian and unjust proposal." Pastor Rick Warren concludes it is "unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals." All three are right. And the prospect of pastors and counselors as informants for the state is particularly offensive -- the calling of Judas instead of Jesus.

It is not cultural imperialism to criticize an oppressive law in Uganda, any more than in Iran or Saudi Arabia. It is consistency. And it is not colonialism for nations that donate to the fight against AIDS in Uganda to be disturbed about policies that make this effort more difficult. Uganda is on a path of self-isolation that will hurt its people.

Religious citizens often bring strong moral convictions into public life. One of those convictions should be pluralism.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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