Uganda’s Jail the Gays Law is Annulled: What You Need to Know

Uganda’s Constitutional Court has found the infamous and internationally condemned Jail the Gays law is unlawful but, while a solid victory, the reasoning behind this decision means it may not be the last we’ve heard of the anti-gay law.

The case challenging the law was brought by 10 petitioners including academics, journalists, human rights groups and even some MPs. They argue that the law, which among many other provisions means life in prison for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” is blatantly unconstitutional and that it violates a wealth of human rights standards which Uganda has signed. They also contend that the law is unsafe on grounds of how it was passed into law, which we’ll talk about more below.

For its part, the government has always maintained that this bill is necessary to prevent the West exporting homosexuality to Uganda and so that Ugandans can resist foreign influence — which is ironic given that the impetus behind the bill was a visit by a number of American evangelical groups in 2009, from which the death penalty version of this legislation grew.

While the death penalty was (begrudgingly) removed, the legislation still remains incredibly hostile to LGBT people and, since it was signed into law by President Museveni in February, there has been a marked increase in persecutions and even violent assaults against LGBT Ugandans.

Yet none of this featured in the Constitutional Court’s reasoning that the law is null and void. No, the Court instead focused on how parliament passed the law, and specifically the number of MPs that actually voted on the bill. The bill was voted on in December last year, but even supporters of the bill within the government criticized its passing because the number of MPs attending that day and voting on the bill was not enough to achieve quorum, or a representative number of total MPs in parliament. As such, said critics and supporters alike, the vote was not valid. Despite this, President Museveni signed the legislation, and the government has been enforcing it ever since — but now the Constitutional Court says all this was unlawful because the law never received a valid vote.

“We’re very happy,” law professor Sylvia Tamale told The New York Times. “But it’s unfortunate that the court did not deal with the substantive issues that violate our rights.”

Indeed it is. The law’s champion, back-bencher David Bahati, has already announced this decision will be appealed to Uganda’s Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is hostile to LGBT rights, but the quorum issue appears to be a hard one for the bill’s supporters to win: it’s a bare fact that isn’t open to appeals to history or culture. Therefore, if all is fair and even, we’d expect the appeal to lose. The problem is that, without a ruling against the constitutionality of the substance of the bill, there is absolutely nothing stopping MPs from reintroducing the law. Should that happen, we could see another flashpoint of violence, and there’s always the danger that the law could be further amended to become even more hostile. There’s also the fact that supporting MPs are now calling for an investigation into the impartiality of the judiciary, representing an attack on all fronts.

That’s the drawback of this ruling, but it would be unfair to say that this isn’t an (albeit qualified) victory for Uganda’s LGBT community.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said in a statement that this ruling is a “victory” for the “rule of law” and has also thanked those behind the court challenge who he acknowledged “spoke out at great personal risk.”

A number of nations have cut aid to Uganda over the law, including the United States and the World Bank. Whether the Constitutional Court’s ruling will see a reinstatement of those funds isn’t clear because, clearly, Uganda’s presiding National Resistance Movement still wants the law active.

At the very least though, this ruling appears to re-frame the battle and give human rights groups another chance to defeat this odious law.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Patsy O: God REALLY said in the Bible, one man marry as many women as you think you can AFFORD. The famed and revered Biblical Patriarchs were POLYGAMOUS. Moses, David, Abraham, all of 'em.
Do you actually READ your Bible? or just tiny snippets your Religious Leaders tell you its alright for you to read...
Leaving out the Incest, Genocide, talking animals, flat and geocentric earth... killing babies, wiping out entire tribes, making sex-slaves of captured females {those who were Virgins!}, all that...
Your God, who FORTUNATELY DOESN'T EXIST - thank god! {sic!} -
No, thank you, I DON'T regard such a being as the Source of my Morals, and EVERYBODY SHOULD BE GLAD OF IT...

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Uganda, people may not know this, is HEAVILY CATHOLIC.
I assume this would be reflected in the makeup of their MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT.
Scott Lively and his Evil Vile Crew, are Evangelicals.
Evangelicals are also big in Uganda - I don't know the statistics here.
Lively and those guys, have connections with SISTER CHURCHES in Uganda - their Church people {like David Barati} come over here to the U.S. for PRAYER BREAKFASTS in Washington D.C. {look at what I say below about denying Passports and Visas?!}.
Now, the Pope is against Gay Marriage for theological reasons, but he doesn't want to "slay the Gays". That's SO 15th-century!!!!!
There are enough Catholics to make a difference, if it's reflected in the Ugandan Parliament.
I'd like to see the Pope pro-active here...
[Every time that Bill gets re-introduced, it serves as a STIMULUS for STREET VIOLENCE AGAINST UGANDAN GAYS... like it gives them "permission". Street thugs don't care about the Pope. The Pope COULD speak out against the Bill...]

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

Mark V: I SO agree with your ENTIRE POST!
'God bless and protect the people of Uganda, and bring the Criminals Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundidger to justice before the World Court for Crimes Against Humanity.'
I say "Amen to that" from the DEPTHS OF MY ATHEIST SOUL. {An Oxymoron?}

One thing that CAN be done about those despicable would-be murderers of Gays, and HATE-CRIME SPREADERS, is -
There is PLENTY OF PRECEDENT for it!
[In the '50's, "Communists" and "fellow travelers", people like the great Black singer and actor Paul Robeson, were denied U.S. passports... even Charlie Chaplin!]
It's a long and tedious process to get them up before the World Court, WHERE THEY BELONG - and then in JAIL, ditto!
But, DENYING THEM TRAVEL RIGHTS to SPREAD THEIR HATE PROPAGANDA - when it is proven so actually harmful...
That is possible RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY....
We ought to PUSH FOR THIS....

BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

If they couldn't get a QUORUM to vote for the Bill -
does that mean or imply, that MOST MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT STAYED AWAY - on purpose! -
they didn't want to vote FOR the Bill - but, they wouldn't make "enemies" of the Religious people, by actually voting AGAINST the Bill - so, they just stayed away that day?????

And, if the Bill is re-introduced, might not the same thing happen again???
Something to consider.

The OTHER thing to consider, is, that INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS HAVE HAD AN EFFECT - even the small-or-large efforts of us here on Care2!!!
Yup, keep signing those Petitions folks...
Maybe it was that INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC OUTCRY that persuaded those Ugandan MPs to STAY HOME AND NOT FORM A QUORUM.....!
That would be WONDERFUL!!!

Vicky P.
Vicky P.2 years ago

good, it's mostly because of religion John, actually it's completely religion.

Joanne Dixon
Joanne Dixon2 years ago

John C, Let me add to Angela R's answer that in a homophobic socirty, the worst homophobes are those who fear homosexuality in themselves. Ted Haggard was not an isolated incident.

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore2 years ago

John C.: Because they have a distorted view of the homosexuality ban for the LEVITES/priests of the Jews n the Old Testament AND have forgotten that Jesus himself NEVER said anything about homosexuaity.

It's a step in the right direction byt doesnlt go far enough.

Rose Becke2 years ago

Thanks for update

Signed Mitchell

Phil M.
Phil M.2 years ago

Some good news for a change , let us keep our fingers crossed that they will not try to reinstate this law .

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!