December 21 2009 1:40 PM ET
With mounting international pressure on Uganda to table the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, even key members of the Family — the secretive evangelical group with extensive links to Capitol Hill that has dominated headlines in recent weeks — has spoken out against the draconian legislation authored by one of its own Ugandan members.
Whether the plea falls on deaf ears is unclear. But passage of the bill could mean death sentences for gays and lesbians in one of Africa’s most homophobic countries — as well as severe restrictions for nongovernmental organizations working to combat HIV/AIDS in the region.
A near-nightly subject of cable news programs led by MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, the Family has cultivated relationships over decades with Ugandan political leaders, ostensibly in order to export its brand of fundamentalism to the developing nation. David Bahati, a Ugandan politician and the author of the bill, is a Family member who organizes the Ugandan equivalent of the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast — the latter being an annual event that’s become a staple of Beltway politics and has been attended by every sitting U.S. president since 1953.
With the bill currently before a Ugandan parliament committee, Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, talks to Advocate.com about why some Family members have spoken out and why President Obama should finally stare down the Christian right by skipping the yearly prayer event that President Dwight D. Eisenhower hoped would never become a tradition for sitting presidents.
Advocate.com: This antigay bill was drafted months ago. Why are Family members speaking out now?
Jeff Sharlet: They're speaking out against only in response to heavy pressure, both from the media and behind the scenes. None of these statements from politicians is a profile in courage, and not one of them has pledged to use his influence against the bill. [Wisconsin] Sen. Russ Feingold — with no special connections to Uganda — has. How hard would it be for [Oklahoma] Sen. James Inhofe, who has a personal relationship with the Ugandan dictator, to call up his pal up and say, "Not such a good idea"? After all, Inhofe, [Kansas senator] Sam Brownback, [Pennsylvania representative] Joe Pitts, and others have been interfering in the internal affairs of Uganda for years. [Nevada] Sen. John Ensign stepped up to make sure Ugandans' access to condoms is limited, using money meant to help Uganda as a club with which to beat it into submission to his ideas about sexuality. No word from the senator's office whether he used protection when he was secretly having sex with his employee.
The only guy in the Family that I know of who's really doing the right thing is Bob Hunter, a former Ford and Carter administration official who helped build the relationship between the Family — which he prefers to call by its other name, the Fellowship — and President Museveni of Uganda. Bob is speaking out and encouraging others to do the same. He's also trying to work behind the scenes. ... There are still issues there ... but the important thing is that Hunter is doing the right thing for the right reasons and sacrificing the Family's preference for secrecy to make that known.
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