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Judge Weighing Dismissal of Uganda Gay Rights Suit

by Bridget Murphy
Tuesday Jan 8, 2013

For Pepe Onziema, a transgender gay rights activist from Uganda, Monday's federal court hearing in Springfield was a chance to face the man he later called the devil.

For Scott Lively, a Massachusetts evangelical accused of persecuting gays in Uganda, the hearing was something he said he expected as a Christian.

"The Bible predicts that Christians would sit in seats like this and have to face these kinds of things," Lively said later. "I'm not surprised and I'm ready to do whatever the Lord has for me to do."

Following court arguments Monday, it is now up to U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor to decide whether to grant Lively's motion to dismiss a civil action that Sexual Minorities Uganda filed against him last year. The Uganda-based group for which Onziema serves as program director alleges that Lively waged a long campaign of persecution of gays in the East African country.

Lively's lawyer, Horatio Mihet, called the case an attack on the U.S. Constitution and his client's First Amendment right to free speech. Plaintiff's attorney Pam Spees, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, said Lively conspired with others in Uganda to persecute gays.

With every courtroom seat filled, court officials broadcast the proceeding to two overflow rooms so spectators could watch the arguments live.

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 sued under the Alien Tort Statute, filing the U.S. court action as non-citizens while alleging a violation of international law. Part of Lively's motion to dismiss called the court's jurisdiction under that statute into question. Ponsor said he wouldn't address that part of the claim since the U.S. Supreme Court already is considering the statute.

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 proceeding comes as Uganda's Parliament could consider a bill in February that would punish those who promote gay culture, among other aims.

While the bill would include jail for some offenses, the lawmaker who authored the original bill told The Associated Press in November that a new version wouldn't punish some homosexual acts with death.

Parliamentarian David Bahati said the new bill concentrates on protecting children from gay pornography, banning gay marriage and counseling gays.

When introducing the original bill in 2009, Bahati said gays threatened family values and a colonial-era law against sodomy wasn't strong enough.

The first proposal called for the death penalty in cases where HIV-infected gays had sex, where gays had sex with minors or the disabled, and where gays were discovered having sex for the second time.

World leaders including President Barack Obama have condemned the legislation.

Lively told the AP after the lawsuit's filing in March 2012 that he never advocated violence against gays and advised therapy for them, not punishment.

He said in an earlier AP interview that he didn't oppose the criminalization of gays but that imprisonment and the death penalty are too harsh. He was among U.S. evangelicals who visited Uganda in 2009, after which debate began about the bill.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  • Caleb Burgess, 2013-01-09 17:12:35

    If this case geys thrown out then it just gose to show thats these assholes can do an say anything to us an get away with it

  • Wayne M., 2013-01-09 20:10:07

    Using "free speech" and "freedom of religion" to justify irresponsible hate speech is not the exercise of constitutional rights, but the abuse of speech and religion. Scott Lively is deliberately misusing the Bible to justify the actions he has taken that endanger the lives, safety and human rights of other people. He knows full well his statements are being used to justify violence against LGBT people and if he is honest, he would admit that so-called reparative therapy which he supports is merely quack psychology that causes a lot mental harm to those attempting it.

  • , 2013-02-01 05:05:38

    That is your opinion, and you are welcome to it. Reparative therapy is as effective as the desire of the person to behave in a different manner. The genetics of homosexuality is one discussion. The morality of behavior is another. To many people, who have every right to their belief, genetics do not determine the morality of behavior. Behavior can be resisted, overcome and changed in spite of genetics. You seem to have your own brand of Calvinism - people cannot resist the will of their DNA. Whether they can is one argument, whether they should is another. Quit trying to label those who believe homosexuality is immoral as hate mongers. It better describes your own feelings toward those who oppose your own gay advocation.

  • Wayne M., 2013-02-01 09:44:03

    Sorry Anonymous: The fact is that so-called reparative therapy is a quack psychology and causes harm. As such it is a form of abuse, especially when used against teens against their will. Furthermore, it is interesting that many people have gone through so-called reparative therapy and entered a heterosexual marriage - only to seek same-sex sexual contact on the sly or to find they cannot fulfill the intimate needs of their partners. Secondly, when you admit that homosexuality may be natural, but label it as immoral anyway, you are imposing your religious views on others and that is religious abuse - and yes, that is bigotry and spreading hate.

  • , 2013-02-01 20:23:04

    You of course refer to it as quack psychology and state as fact without any data to support your "fact". "As such it causes harm..." proof? Of course again you offer none. Sexual therapy is often not successful, including sexual addiction therapy. Therapy for alcoholism is likewise unsuccessful with those treated drinking "on the sly" as you quaintly put it. That doesn’t determine anything about the moral nature of the behavior or the validity of the attempt to suppress or alter the behavior. And please, quit using the threadbare montra of "natural" as justification for anything. Pedophilia, alcoholism, kleptomania, various expressions of XYY genetics all may be very natural. The argument of "natural" is at the level of those who justify behavior by saying "the devil made me do it". Neither nature nor the devil are the basis of morality (except perhaps in your world). Your bigotry toward those who hold traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs of marriage and sexual morality is transparent, your hate mongering is palpable. Your and those of your ilk who seek to silence those who disagree with you through scorn, mass media, financial and judicial pressure are the ultimate expression of hate and bigotry. It is blatant social fascism.

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