Major Christian Right Actors Seek to Criminalize Homosexuality in Africa

About Kapya Kaoma

On Friday, Andy Kroll at Mother Jones reported that Jay Sekulow and Jordan Sekulow, the father-son team leading the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) — high-profile social conservatives and advisers and supporters of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney,  are working to overcome the candidate’s enthusiasm gap within the right-wing evangelical community. The article highlights findings from my recent Colonizing African Values report, exposing that ACLJ is leading the drive to enshrine U.S. Christian Right principles in African law through its offices in Zimbabwe and Kenya, including barring abortion even when the woman’s life is at risk, and ensuring gay sex (a “pervasion” equated with bestiality) is criminalized. These appalling actions abroad have too long gone without condemnation.

The ACLJ’s stated goal in Africa is to “lobby parliament[s] to take the Christian’s views into consideration as they draft legislation and policies.”1 In Zimbabwe, where a constitutional reform process is underway as the nation waits for a vote to be scheduled, ACLJ-Zimbabwe is partnering with that country’s evangelicals and Pentecostals as a political force and a potential base for the Mugabe government’s homophobic policies, with the goal of making it a “Christian nation.” In 2010, Sarah Posner reported that with its ally the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the ACLJ distributed pamphlets that called “for constitutional prohibitions on both abortion, by defining life as ‘beginning at conception,’” and on attempts to reform the country’s laws criminalizing homosexuality.

The document calls for defining marriage “as being between a man and a woman” and for “any and all definitions of a family or marriages or relationships or legal unions that seek to include or permit same-sex unions to be prohibited,” as well as for “sexual relations between partners of the same-sex, bestiality, and other perversions to remain a criminal activity [emphasis added].”2

The chairman of the ACLJ’s office in Zimbabwe, Alex Chisango, joined Mugabe and his cabinet in a ceremony inaugurating the constitution-reform process, leading the group in an opening prayer.3 Even though Mugabe had criminalized homosexuality in 2006, the ACLJ, along with EFZ and other allies, wanted to make sure the Constitution didn’t create any loopholes. While Article 4:6:3 of the draft constitution defines marriage as between a man and woman, it also prohibits discrimination based on various social, economic, religious, and “natural differences or condition,” a phrase that ACLJ and other religious and political leaders object to as potentially permitting homosexuality.4

ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow met personally with Robert Mugabe’s vice president John Nkomo and other leaders of the “unity government,”5 telling a Christian Broadcasting Network reporter, “the unity government did open the window for U.S. groups like the ACLJ.”6 The ACLJ lobbied the Obama Administration to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe — which the international community levied because of Mugabe’s human rights abuses and refusal to step down after losing an election in 2008 — perhaps as modest payback for the access and influence ACLJ won in that tortured nation.7

Unfortunately, that influence fanned the flames of the continent-wide anti-gay campaign that led to the murder of gay activists David Kato in Uganda in 2011 and Maurice Mjoba in Tanzania in July. And just this August, I heard directly from an on-the-ground activist about Mugabe’s “unity” government’s brutal round-up of gay activists who oppose his drive to criminalize homosexuality, winning the condemnation of the U.S. State Department and forcing the country’s leading LBGT group to basically stop operations.8

The Sekulows are only the most recent Christian Right figures who manage to maintain credible reputations in the United States while taking actions overseas that would not be acceptable at home. A few years ago that role was held by Rick Warren, the California evangelist who offered a prayer at President Obama’s inauguration. Warren told African allies that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right.9 Under pressure, Warren was forced to rebuke those allies who were backing Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill that would have given the death penalty for something called “aggravated homosexuality.”10

The Sekulows need to be challenged the same way. Yet here we have Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney saying he is “honored” to have their support and that he looks “forward to working with them to ensure that we can bring conservative change to Washington.”  If the Sekulows were advocating for constitutional reform that criminalizes the American LGBT community or bars abortions for women whose lives are in danger, would they be considered legitimate figures in the mainstream of U.S. politics? How is it that American conservatives get a pass when they challenge basic human rights abroad?

It was mere months after Uganda’s infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill made global headlines in 2009 when ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow personally oversaw the launch of ACLJ’s African offices, strategically located in countries undertaking reform of their constitutions. Once open, the East African Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) in Nairobi, Kenya and African Center for Law and Justice-Zimbabwe in Harare sought to ensure those countries maintained or expanded bars on homosexuality and abortion.

As in many other African countries, Kenya’s colonial-era penal code already criminalized gay sex; however, the constitution that the Parliament submitted to Kenyans for ratification in August 2010 was silent on homosexuality while barring discrimination of any kind. The EACLJ feared that would create a loophole for homosexuality (and the local LGBT community agreed).11  The proposed constitution also protected access to abortions deemed medically necessary to protect the health of the woman, which Jordan Sekulow characterized as “abortion on demand” to CBN News’ Morning program.12 He added that ACLJ was “trying to educate people on this [abortion on demand] because the government of Kenya is saying that this is not what it means; but we know how it plays in courts.” Despite their efforts and investing “tens of thousands” of dollars (according to Sekulow), the ACLJ and its allies were unable to change the draft or defeat the constitution at the polls in August 2010.13

Yet even these minor concessions to protecting LGBT persons and women’s lives cannot stand, according to the director of the East African Center for Law and Justice.“The current constitution promotes gay rights and abortion,” Joy Mdivo, the executive director, told PRA. “We are working on going to court over those two issues. We shall also carry out further civic education to warn people of the dangers of homosexuality and abortion in Kenya.”14

The Sekulows and ACLJ are well known for their work drafting and promoting the Defense of Marriage Act and other initiatives that curtail LGBT rights and restrict abortion in the United States. At home, the Sekulows and the ACLJ advocate second-class citizenship for LGBT persons. In Africa, it’s far worse. The ACLJ fights to ensure the constitutions criminalize people simply because they are a sexual minority and block abortions even from women whose health is in danger. It cozies up to dictators like Mugabe. Yet the Sekulows have not been held accountable for their actions abroad.

PRA exposed the American Center for Law and Justice anti-LGBT activities in Africa in researcher Kapya Kaoma’s July 2012 report, Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa.

1. “About Us,” East African Center for Law and Justice.
2. Sarah Posner, “Pat Robertson’s Women Warriors Leading Spiritual Warfare In Zimbabwe,” Religion Dispatches, August 1,2010. Also see ACLJ Special Operations Unit: Zimbabwe post from March 30, 2009.
3. “Rebuilding in the Spirit,” Christian Broadcasting Network, n.d.
4. Kapya Kaoma, Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa (Somerville: Political Research Associates, July 2012).
5. ACLJ Special Operations Unit: Zimbabwe, June 23, 2010.
6. “Rebuilding in the Spirit,” Christian Broadcasting Network, n.d.
7. Sarah Posner, “Pat Robertson’s Women Warriors Leading Spiritual Warfare In Zimbabwe,” Religion Dispatches, August 1,2010.  Also see ACLJ Special Operations Unit: Zimbabwe post from March 30, 2009. 
8. Kapya Kaoma, “US Christian right links with Zimbabwe’s Mugabe to suppress gay rights,” Global Post, October 2,  2012.
9. Evelyn Lirri, “Uganda: Gay Row – U.S. Pastor Supports Country On Boycott,” The Monitor, March 29, 2008.
10. “Political Research Associates Calls on Rick Warren to Denounce Proposed Antigay Law in Uganda,” Political Research Associates, October 29, 2009.
11. PRA interview with East African Center for Law and Justice director Joy B. Mdivo, Kenya, September 15, 2011.
12. “Kenyans to Vote on Abortion Clause,” Christian Broadcasting Network, August 4, 2010.
13. Kevin J. Kelly, “US Dollars Fueling Church Campaign,” The Daily Nation, May 1, 2010.
14. PRA interview with East African Center for Law and Justice director Joy B. Mdivo, Kenya, September 15, 2011.

Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma served as PRA's Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher from 2008-2018. He was the original researcher to expose the ties between U.S. right-wing evangelicals and the anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda, and has testified before Congress and the United Nations. He is the author of "Globalizing the Culture Wars" and "Colonizing African Values," and appears as an expert voice in the 2013 documentary God Loves Uganda. He received his doctorate in Ethics from Boston University.