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The space for homosexuality in Kenya

By Chris Obong'o | July 30th 2015

"[Homosexuality] is as serious as terrorism. It's as serious as any other social evil." These were the words of the leader of the Majority in Kenyan parliament, the Honorable Aden Duale during a parliamentary debate about enacting tougher rules against homosexuality; an earlier ruling in Uganda criminalizing homosexuality triggered this debate. The year 2014 would later witness heightened debate about enforcing a ban on homosexuality on one hand, and protecting the rights of Gays and Lesbians under the new constitution’s bill of rights on the other hand. One American article in August 2014 described the proposed tougher anti-homosexuality laws in Kenya as “new kill-the-gays” laws. Eventually these processes would lead to a court ruling calling on the government to register a lobby group for Gays and Lesbians in Kenya.

I am unqualified to argue the constitutionality or otherwise of the rights of Gays and Lesbians—I will restrict myself to the cultural and religious-moral issues against homosexuality raised by Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto last weekend. According to Mr. Ruto, Kenya has no room for homosexuality, because “it goes against our cultural and religious beliefs” and it is “un-African.” Consequently, he says, the government will fully defend and support the church in the fight against homosexuality.

Mr. Ruto’s argument that homosexuality is un-African and against our cultural beliefs is consistent with the lazy and tired premise of many of the government’s public “policy” pronouncements. Even if he can provide a specific definition of “African” and “un-African”, the fallacy and tiredness of this argument is simply this: it suggests that everything African is good and everything un-African is bad. Let us give the Deputy President the benefit of doubt and assume that homosexuality is un-“us” Africans. How does that address the reality that many Africans—shoot, many Kenyans—are openly homosexual? If you doubt, or think that this is only prevalent in Nairobi, visit any smaller towns in Kenya and I bet you will find exclusive homosexual clubs frequented by local boys and girls. The “space” Mr. Ruto is talking about already exists; even if it did not, it is not up to him or the Church to provide that space. If Mr. Ruto had spent time to consider his views on this matter he would have realized that wishing away something based on it not being African is not helpful; if it was, we would have gotten rid of terrorism. Moreover, if we all were to make choices based on the simple criteria of African versus un-African then probably Mr. Ruto as a relatively wealthy leader would be married to more than one wife, while we all would be idling away in goatskin on some hill in Sugoi.

Secondly, Mr. Ruto chose the church as a convenient place to make these pronouncements. It is indeed unfortunate that he equates his opposition to rights of homosexuals to a defense of the church and of Kenya’s religious values. From a Christian point of view, the church is a welcome place for everyone; more especially for those the church considers “sinners.” Christianity is about following Christ. He (Christ) spent most of his time with prostitutes and lepers, the kind declared unclean by his time. He in deed said: “for such as these I come.” It is instructive to note that Jesus while rebuking sin, never rebuked sinners. Surprisingly, the only people Jesus deliberately avoided and openly rebuked were hypocrites, the Pharisees and Sadducees. The uncontested modern day hypocrites in Kenya are politicians who have perfected the art of double speak. In Jesus’ time, these would not get even a foothold into the temple—Jesus once flogged them publicly for defiling the temple.


What then can the Church do/ not do? It is the responsibility of the Church to teach the message of Christ, through love and acceptance to win as many as possible to this faith. In doing this, the Church has a responsibility to preach a redemptive rather than a judgmental message. It is by showing love and compassion for those we perceive as most sinful that Christians can truly demonstrate the character of Christ. In so doing, politicians should not have free access to Church pulpit as safe avenues for spewing hatred and division based on shaky moral grounds. Politicians, however strongly convicted of their personal faith, should avoid using their faith as a basis for making public policy. Kenya as a state is separate and distinct from the Church. It would be difficult, near impossible, to define common faith beliefs and moral standards that are acceptable to all Kenyans. For those of us who believe in the Bible, we strive every day to live its true principles and to influence others to our faith, through love and compassion. Those who do not, we have no right to insist that they abide by our values. That is why we have a constitution, not the Bible, which ties us together as a state. I salute the Gays and Lesbians group for seeking a constitutional determination of their agenda, through the courts. Mr. Ruto and everyone else who feels this judgment is wrong have every right to appeal; the constitutionality of this debate can best be played out at the courts of law.

Finally, anyone who remembers the history of HIV/AIDS must hope and pray that the church will come around sooner rather than later on the matter of homosexuality.

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