U.S. judge will dismiss Uganda gay rights suit?

U.S. Judge Michael A. Ponsor
U.S. Judge Michael A. Ponsor

Comments from federal Judge Michael A. Ponsor cast doubts on the prospects for success in Ugandan LGBT activists’ lawsuit against anti-gay pastor Scott Lively, whom they accuse of committing crimes against humanity in Uganda.

Preliminary arguments in the case were heard Jan. 7 in the federal court in Springfield, Mass., where Lively argued for dismissal.

The Associated Press reported:

The judge said he would consider whether Lively’s speech crossed the boundary from First Amendment-protected speech into activity intended to harm people, and that he was looking for more concrete examples of misbehavior on Lively’s part to justify the continuation of the lawsuit.

“As I look at the complaint, I’m frankly struggling to see what the actionable behavior is here,” Ponsor said of the plaintiff’s filing.

Sexual Minorities Uganda [SMUG] sued under the Alien Tort Statute, filing the U.S. court action as non-citizens while alleging a violation of international law. …

The defense argued there’s no link between Lively and his alleged co-conspirators, and his criticism of homosexuality wasn’t specific enough to constitute as conduct that persecuted gays.

The plaintiff argued that Lively met with Ugandan government leaders and headlined a 2009 conference from which an anti-gay bill emerged.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, nicknamed the “Kill the Gays” bill, was introduced in 2009 and again last year, but has not been voted on. It is expected to be considered again this year.

Thomson Reuters “News & Insight” reported:

Scott Lively (Photo courtesy of Towleroad.com)
Scott Lively (Photo courtesy of Towleroad.com)

If the 90-minute hearing on Monday in front of U.S. District Judge Michael Posner is any indication, the group, Sexual Minorities Uganda — or SMUG — which is suing Lively for crimes against humanity, might not get very far. …

On Monday, Ponsor said he was troubled by the lack of connection between anti-gay rhetoric by Lively and acts of oppression against gays in Uganda. Ponsor said he couldn’t find anything more than “expressive behavior” in the evangelist’s remarks, and the plaintiffs needed to show a more concrete example of misbehavior to justify continuation of the lawsuit. Lawyers for Lively have requested the case be dismissed, and Ponsor said he would give a ruling soon.

Provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill include the following ones, highlighted by SMUG:

  • “Any person alleged to be homosexual would be at risk of life imprisonment or in some circumstances the death penalty” [That provision may or may not have been removed.]
  • “Any parent who does not denounce their lesbian daughter or gay son to the authorities would face fines of $2,650 or three years in prison”
  • “Any teacher who does not report a lesbian or gay pupil to the authorities within 24 hours would face the same penalties”
  • “And any landlord or landlady who happens to give housing to a suspected homosexual would risk 7 years of imprisonment”
  • “Similarly, the Bill threatens to punish or ruin the reputation of anyone who works with the gay or lesbian population, such as medical doctors working on HIV/AIDS, Civil Society leaders active in the fields of sexual and reproductive health; or even religious leaders providing guidance and counseling to people who are unsure of their sexuality or any other consultations.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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