Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has refused to sign Uganda’s infamous Anti-Homosexuality bill, returning it to parliament. Why did he decide on this course of action, and what does it mean for the future of the bill?
Museveni had previously told parliament he would not sign the bill until the government had been given an appropriate length of time to study the issue. This was widely interpreted to mean the bill would not be allowed to pass until international attention had died down.
In an eight page letter to MPs that was released this week, Museveni again rejected the bill. He challenged that the chamber passed the bill without quorum, or the minimum representative number of lawmakers in attendance, and that this alone should be enough to challenge the bill:
“Some elements, however, insisted and even without quorum of Parliament, passed it,” he writes. “How can you pass law without the quorum of Parliament after it has been pointed out? What sort of Parliament is this? How can Parliament be the one to break the Constitution and the Law repeatedly?”
Museveni, terming homosexual citizens as “abnormal” and later as prone to “mercenary” acts certainly hasn’t changed his opinion of gay people, but: “The question at the core of the debate of homosexuality is; what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or we do contain him/her?” These are questions, Museveni contends, that need further study.
At the same time, he also rallies against the idea of gay rights, saying, “You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people.” Museveni also made it known he believes women may become lesbians due to “sexual starvation.”
However, Museveni’s letter is at least marginally encouraging in that it appears to show he has little appetite for the current bill. Rather, he seems to want to attempt to “reform” homosexuals. That could potentially be as dangerous as the bill before parliament now, but that’s a fight for a different time.
In closing, Museveni says he does support life in prison for men and women engaging in sexual relationships with minors, and particularly if those constitute homosexual acts, but that he wants the NRM Caucus to “find a scientifically correct position” on the legislation (whatever that is meant to mean) before further action is taken. So what does this mean for Uganda’s “Jail the Gays” bill?
To be clear, Museveni has not vetoed the bill. The country’s constitution does not give him that power. Instead, he has returned the bill to parliament to be reviewed and changed. It is usually the case that parliament will debate the bill and consider what Museveni has outlined. Yet, if lawmakers can muster a two-thirds majority they can override the need for Museveni’s approval on the bill. Will they do that? It’s likely that lawmakers will want to wait before acting, at least until the mentioned caucus takes place later this month. However, we know that there is a great deal of support for the bill and that some lawmakers are lobbying hard to get it through parliament. This is a reprieve, then, and not the end of the matter.
While the bill no longer advocates for the death penalty, it remains abhorrent in several respects, including carrying a jail term for “aggravated homosexuality,” and fines and prison time for failing to tell the authorities about someone who is just suspected of being gay. As such, international human rights commentators are urging that we do not stop pressing Uganda to abandon this odious bill.
Care2 Success: More than 46,000 Care2 members have signed a petition calling on President Museveni to reject the bill. Thank you to everyone who signed but please keep passing this petition around and make sure Uganda knows that no watering down of the bill could ever make it acceptable!
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