Sharon Slater, American anti-gay activist and president of Family Watch International, recently encouraged delegates attending a law conference in Lagos, Nigeria to resist the United Nations’ calls to decriminalize homosexuality. Keynoting the Nigerian Bar Association Conference, Slater told delegates that they would lose their religious and parental rights if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” One such “fictitious right” is the right to engage in same-sex sexual relationships without going to jail.
According to an email from the organization, Slater’s efforts are already getting results. A week after Slater’s speech, husband Greg Slater, FWI’s legal adviser, told supporters in an email:
As the most populous and one of the wealthiest African counties, Nigeria can serve as a strong role model for other governments in the region to follow on how to hold on to their family values despite intense international pressure. In fact, several days after the conference, the head of the Anglican Church called upon the Nigerian government to withdraw from the United Nations because of its push to further the cause of homosexuality.
In Nigeria, homosexual behavior is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison. In the Islamic North, where Sharia law is enforced, gays can be sentenced to death by stoning.
According to Family Watch International, Nigeria is a role model.
A nonprofit organization, Arizona-based FWI is affiliated with the World Congress of Families, an Illinois think tank which conducts international conferences to promote their vision for “the natural family”—“the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage.”
Most of the conferences are outside the United States and have focused on developing nations where their conservative message resonates well. Like FWI, the World Congress of Families opposes decriminalization of homosexuality. For instance, WCF opposed the 2009 UN resolution calling for decriminalization of homosexuality and downplayed the harshness of the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill in a 2009 newsletter. For FWI and WCF, supporting the natural family means resisting the right of GLBT people to live without threat of jail for private conduct.
FWI once considered Uganda’s notorious anti-gay pastor, Martin Ssempa, a volunteer coordinator for Africa. However, according to its website, FWI broke with Ssempa about the same time Ssempa’s support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality bill became public. Although Ssempa’s name is still listed as a volunteer, there is a new description accompanying it:
Martin Ssempa, FWI African Coordinator (volunteer)—Martin Ssempa was associated with Family Watch International because of his extensive work with youth promoting abstinence-based HIV education in Uganda. This association ended when Family Watch became aware of Mr. Ssempa’a support of the proposed law in Uganda calling for the execution of homosexuals who engaged in “aggravated homosexuality” (defined as homosexual sex between an adult and a minor or when a person infected with HIV knowingly has sex with another person putting them at risk for contracting HIV).
Slater: “It’s Complicated”
Since FWI now opposes the Ugandan bill, but at the same time opposes United Nations pressure on African nations to decriminalize homosexuality, I asked Slater what legal penalties she favors in those nations. She told me in an interview that the issue is “complicated” and that her organization supports the right of African nations to maintain their “religious and cultural values.” However, she says she doesn’t believe in violence toward gays. In the speech to the Nigeria audience, Slater said:
Now I want to be clear that Family Watch does not condone violence against homosexuals and transgenders, but based on the debate around this resolution, it was obvious that all UN Member States were aware that this study will be used, not just to prevent violence against homosexuals and transgenders but to advance sexual rights and harass nations that do not accept and protect these lifestyles.
Slater told me the same thing, saying “We do not support any laws that promote violence against homosexuals.” She added that her organization presents research showing that gays can change orientation. Such research is relevant to her stance because, “laws that promote violence would discourage therapy for people with unwanted same-sex attraction.”
I asked Mrs. Slater if she considers a 14-year jail sentence a form of violence. She said that her organization has no position on that question saying, “FWI does not dictate to nations what specific laws people should enact or protect regarding homosexual sex or whether they should fine or jail individuals.”
Since Slater said that FWI supports the right of nations to make laws in keeping with their religious and cultural values, I asked if FWI supports the right of Islamic nations to criminalize religious observance other than Islam. On this point, Slater made a distinction between religion and sexuality. “It may seem contradictory but it’s not.” To support this position, Slater quoted from the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 29 (2):
In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society.
Slater explained that sexuality is referenced under the topic of “morality, public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society.” She said that nations have the right to regulate sexuality for those purposes.
Slater’s concern about decriminalizing homosexuality relates to her perception of the inevitable outcomes of that legal change. She told me that her organization opposed the repeal of sodomy laws in the United States, “not because we want them [homosexuals] in jail, but because the repeal of these laws creates a climate where other special rights are demanded.” She pointed to protections in housing, jobs, and marriage as problematic outcomes.
“While the laws [criminalizing homosexuality] are in place, it may seem like a restriction in personal liberty,” she said, but added that “society has not been able to resolve that conflict.”
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