Uganda’s lawmakers have done the unthinkable and passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, making it lawful to give people a life sentence for having a same-sex relationship.
In recent months, the world has focused on Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, but all the while Uganda’s lawmakers have been slowly working toward passing the now infamous bill and on Friday, December 20, they did just that.
Homosexuality was already banned in Uganda. This was thanks to colonial laws that made homosexuality an offense under acts “against the order of nature.” But lawmakers in Uganda weren’t content with that. As we have outlined previously, U.S, evangelicals helped in urging Uganda to create even stricter laws, supposedly to guard against gay people recruiting children.
As has become sadly typical for Uganda’s legislative process, on Friday the bill passed amid controversy. Uganda’s Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, isn’t opposed to the bill in principle but has complained that not enough MPs were actually present during the vote. In a statement on the Uganda parliament’s website, Mbabazi says, “I was not aware that this Bill was coming up for debate. There are some issues on which we are still consulting.” He is quoted as adding, “This is an important Bill that we need to pass with a quorum in Parliament.”
Whether the Prime Minister will work for a re-vote in the next few weeks remains to be seen. The official number of votes hasn’t yet been released but it is believed there was some opposition.
“What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom should not be the business of this Parliament,” lawmakers Sam Otada and Fox Odoi are quoted as saying in a statement. “It is not right to have the state allowed in the bedrooms of people.”
There is some slight good news in that the death penalty provision that existed in the original legislation and led to it being dubbed the “Kill the Gays” bill is not part of the bill that was passed this week. This is little consolation though as the crime of so-called “aggravated homosexuality” or repeat offending, having sex with a minor, or having sex with someone who has some form of disability, will now be punishable by up to life in prison.
While at the time of writing, the full text of the bill has yet to be released, we do know that bill also carries a seven-year jail term for anyone who attempts to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony. The bill also makes it an offense not to inform the police if you suspect that someone you know is gay.
David Bahati, the MP who originally introduced the legislation as a private members bill in 2009, gave the AFP a celebratory statement, saying:
“This is victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil. Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks.”
Human rights groups are obviously reeling from Friday’s events. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told the press “We in the gay community are in a panic. People are afraid of walking in the streets, because they know how Ugandans like to take the law into their own hands.” He added in a Twitter post, “I am officially illegal.”
Take Action: It’s Not too Late to Stop Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
There remains one important window of opportunity for stopping this bill, and here’s how you can help!
The Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stopped a previous incarnation of the bill by telling lawmakers he would not sign it. International pressure, including a petition from the Care2 community, helped tell President Museveni the bill must be rejected or Uganda would lose international recognition and financial support.
Museveni now has 30 days to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Please, sign the Care2 petition today to call on him to reject the legislation. If you have already signed, thank you so much. Please send it to your friends.
Image credit: Thinkstock.