Uganda Gays Face Life Sentence for Being Gay


Uganda on Friday passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009, making gays who have sex guilty of “aggravated homosexuality,” which leaves them facing a possible maximum term of life in prison. Aggravated homosexuality under the law includes having gay sex with someone who is infected with HIV, with minors and the disabled as well as between consenting adults having gay sex repeatedly.  The bill, which had been first introduced in 2010, originally had death as a possible penalty for engaging in homosexual acts with a minor or if one of the participants had HIV.

The bill passed Friday removed the death penalty possibility, but lawmakers rejected a lesser punishment of 14 years in prison for other crimes under the bill, which also punishes anyone who “conducts a marriage ceremony” for two people of the same sex with a seven-year prison term.

The bill must be signed by President Yoweri Museveni within 30 days in order for it to become a law.  Museveni has been very critical of gays in the past, but has recently changed his opinion by saying that he is opposed only to homosexuals who seem to be “promoting” themselves.

Being gay in Uganda had been illegal before Friday under a law that made homosexual sex acts a crime because they were “against the order of nature,” but not a crime punishable by a life sentence. The new law is the brainchild of David Bahati, a politician who wrote the bill under the argument that Western homosexuals were threatening to destroy families and that they were allegedly “recruiting” children into the gay lifestyle, necessitating a stricter law against homosexuality.

Homosexuals in Uganda blame the new law on the effect that American evangelicals are having on religious and political leaders as they spread their anti-homosexual campaigns in Africa.

Although homophobia is widespread across Uganda, most gays were starting to believe that they were making progress, especially after the first gay pride parade in 2012.  Some gays were feeling confident enough to join human rights supporters in street marches.

Uganda’s prominent gay rights activist, Frank Mugisha, proclaimed the bill “the worst in the world” and pleaded with Museveni to not sign the bill, therefore making it law.

The new bill was widely supported across Uganda, with most people saying the government had every right to create laws to protect Ugandan children.

Because of international criticism, the bill had been put on hold repeatedly and under protest.  The speaker of the parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, threatened late last year that the bill would be passed as a “Christmas gift” to Ugandans.  Kadaga herself led the session that passed the bill on Friday, even though the Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi, requested that the vote be delayed.

At the time the bill was first presented, US President Barack Obama labeled it “odious.”  Human rights group Human Rights Now has called on Obama to urge Museveni to not sign the bill.

Uganda, which wants to dole out a life sentence for being gay, is not the only African country to criminalize homosexuality.  According to a report made public earlier this year by Amnesty International, 70 percent of the African continent, comprised of 38 countries, have laws in place against homosexual activity.

By Jennifer Pfalz


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