Ugandan President Backs Anti-Gay Bill

Ugandan President Backs Anti-Gay Bill

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he will sign a bill imposing harsh sentences for homosexual acts — a move that could antagonize the socially liberal Western governments that provide aid to Uganda, NewYorkTimes reports.

Homosexual acts are already prohibited in Uganda by colonial-era law. An earlier version of the bill Museveni is backing was introduced in 2009 and then withdrawn. It included the death penalty in some instances. An international outcry helped scuttle that version, but legislators pushed ahead with a revised one, according to the New York Times.

The bill, if passed, will criminalize “the promotion or recognition” of homosexual relations. After a first conviction, offenders face a 14-year prison sentence. Subsequent convictions of
“aggravated homosexuality” could mean life in prison.

Museveni made the announcement during a convention of his National Resistance Movement, a government spokesman said. “The NRM caucus has welcomed the development as a measure to protect Ugandans from social deviants,” spokesman Ofwono Opondo said in a Twitter post.

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International.

Homosexual acts are punishable by death in Mauritania, Southern Somalia, Sudan and
Northern Nigeria according to Shariah law. Arrests of gay people increased after President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria signed a law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country in January.

The Ugandan parliament passed the most recent version of the antigay legislation in December. Museveni later wrote a letter to parliament saying lawmakers had made
procedural errors in passing the bill and that in-depth study was needed before it could be
considered again. Museveni said he would seek more expert opinions.

“The normal person was created to be attracted to the opposite sex in order to procreate and perpetuate the human race,” Museveni wrote in his December letter. He also said that many women became lesbians out of “sexual starvation” because they had failed to get married.

“This comes after 14 medical experts presented a report that homosexuality is not genetic but a social behavior,” Opondo said on Twitter.

The president’s science adviser, Richard Tushemereirwe, told Museveni at the conference that “homosexuality has serious public health consequences and should therefore not be tolerated,” Reuters reported.

Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan gay rights activist, said in an email he did not believe that Museveni would sign the bill in its current form. “President Museveni knows that this bill is unconstitutional and that we shall challenge it after he signs.

“But his political remarks about signing will only increase violence and hatred towards L.G.B.T. persons in Uganda,” Mugisha said, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Uganda has a powerful evangelical Christian lobby that has supported antigay legislation and signing the law would be popular with the conservative Ugandan public. “Ugandan traditionalists, religious leaders and politicians have been urging Museveni to sign
the bill,” Opondo said in another Twitter post, NewYorkTimes reports.

Gay rights advocates say that American evangelicals played a crucial role in pushing an
antigay agenda in Uganda. In 2012, a Ugandan gay rights group filed a lawsuit against an
American evangelist, Scott Lively, in Massachusetts, saying he had incited the persecution of gay men and lesbians in Uganda.

If Museveni signs the bill into law it will likely to antagonize the socially liberal
Western governments that provide aid to Uganda, NewYorkTimes reports.

“The U.S. government cannot stand idly by as a witness to history as the Ugandan government prepares to strip lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans of their human and legal rights,” said Ruth W. Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, in a statement.

The measure is a “draconian law, which is nothing less than an act of state-sanctioned hate,” Messinger said.

If Museveni signs the bill, it will “place the lives of countless Ugandans at risk,” the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement. The proposed measure “had already intensified the climate of hatred and persecution” against gay men and lesbians in Uganda, the human rights group said. “The international community has a legal and moral obligation to prevent this law from being implemented.”

But opposition from abroad often only stiffens the resolve of African governments, which
oppose what they perceive to be meddling from foreigners, especially former colonial powers, NewYorkTimes reports.

Those who oppose the law can challenge it in court, Opondo said. “Hey guys supporting homosexuals take it easy Uganda is a sovereign country,” he said in a subsequent Twitter message.