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Anti-Homosexuality Bill under Consideration in Uganda

Outrage and concern have sprung up in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is likely to be considered by the Parliament in the coming weeks.  The legislation was introduced in October by David Bahati, a member of the current ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, and a Minister of Parliament in Uganda. The Uganda Parliament will consider the Anti-Homosexuality Bill sometime in March of 2010. If this bill passes, it will increase the severity of penalties for individuals charged and convicted for engaging in same-sex, sexual activity. It will also make it a felony for individuals to “aid and abet” same-sex activity, further infringing upon the rights and safety of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Uganda.1
 
The proposed bill includes a maximum seven year prison sentence for those convicted of engaging in same-sex, sexual activity and proposes a new rule about “aggravated homosexuality,” which is defined in the bill as a person living with HIV engaging in same-sex activity; same-sex activity with minors; and serial offenses of same-sex activity. A person who is convicted of attempting to engage in “aggravated homosexuality” will be liable to receive life imprisonment. A person who is convicted of engaging in “aggravated homosexuality” will be liable to receive the death penalty.2
 
Proponents of the bill say that it will protect the lifestyle of the “traditional family,” arguing that same-sex attraction is “not an innate and immutable characteristic.”3 They argue that the widespread international criticism is irrelevant, that such attention and pressure infringes on their sovereignty, and that the opinions of other countries should not have an effect on how their Parliament votes.4
 
Opponents of the legislation, including many governments, have spoken out strongly against the legislation. Representatives from the government of the United States and the European Union have voiced disapproval of the bill, and Sweden threatened to withhold aid from Uganda if the bill is passed. The passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could, in fact, have negative repercussions for the country in terms of foreign aid contributors if additional countries and organizations decide to withdrawal much needed aid.
 
As a result, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has publicly voiced his opposition of the inclusion of the death penalty in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. While speaking at the National Resistance Movement party’s conference he stressed how this bill is not only a domestic issue, but a foreign policy issues. President Museveni asked the government officials to consider how their decision could affect the future of the country.6 However, he has not spoken out against the entirety of the bill. The Uganda Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba Buturo, has publicly said that he thinks that the death penalty will be removed from the bill, although he is an ardent supporter of its passage.7
 
With or without the inclusion of the death penalty, members of activist groups and the international community are arguing that the passage of any form of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will be a step backwards for Uganda and human rights. The bill allows for the conviction of anyone who is “aiding or abating” a gay individual. This means that anyone who is perceived as counseling a homosexual individual is committing a felony. This statute has the potential to create a dangerous environment in Uganda where individuals are already stigmatized for their sexual orientation and could inhibit outreach to these populations by organizations seeking to prevent the spread of HIV.8
  
Political and religious leaders from both liberal and conservative ideologies in the United States have condemned the bill. Although many conservative religious leaders do not condone same-sex relationships, a few have said that they do not think that the actions specified in the bill are the right response.  For example,  Pastor Rick Warren condemned the bill for being un-Christian and immoral. Warren recognized that passage of the bill would hurt the outreach of churches in Uganda and hinder aid for HIV positive individuals.9 Ironically, other members of the U.S. Christian community have been criticized for instigating the creation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. A month prior to the introduction of the bill three American evangelical Christians, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer, gave talks in Uganda preaching against homosexuality and its threat to families. The men, however, maintain that they did not advocate for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.10
 
Lawmakers and the Obama Administration have begun an active campaign against the passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality bill. In his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on February 4, sponsored by the Christian organization The Fellowship Foundation, President Obama spoke out against the bill. He attempted to get lawmakers to put aside their political differences and focus on the morality of the bill. The President pointed out that lawmakers "may disagree about gay marriage, but surely…can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are -- whether it's here in the United States or, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed, most recently in Uganda.”11 
 
The United States Congress introduced resolutions opposing Uganda’s proposed legislation on February 4, 2010. The Senate produced a resolution with a bipartisan following that includes Democratic Senators Ben Cardin (MD) and Russsell Feingold  (WI) and Republican Senators Tom Coburn (OK) and Susan Collins (ME). The House resolution denounces Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and goes into detail on the detrimental affects it could have on the HIV-infected population in Uganda. The resolution affirms representative’s beliefs in “human dignity, regardless of sexual orientation” and requests that the President and Secretary of State continue to oppose Uganda’s bill and provide resources to support individuals living with HIV. 13  Although both resolutions are starting to gain momentum, they require support from additional members of Congress.
 
It remains to be seen whether or not Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill will pass. The spokeswoman for Uganda’s ruling party has said that “although the President is against some parts of the bill, the bill has to stay.”14
 


1 “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” Uganda Gazette, 25 September 2009, accessed 15 January 2010, <http://www.chr.up.ac.za/press%20releases/Bill%20No%2018%20Anti%20Homosexuality%20Bill%202009.pdf>.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 “Anti-gay bill is also foreign policy issue: Ugandan leader,” American Foreign Press, 13 January 2010, accessed 15 January 2010, <http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hTSP7SuCrHKwa5-HPNetZBMR_lKQ>.
6 “Anti-gay bill is also foreign policy issue: Ugandan leader.”
7 Barney Jopson,“Ugandan Government backs anti-gay legislation,” The Washington Post, 19 December 2009, accessed 13 January 2010, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/18/AR2009121804294.html>.
8 Eric Young, “Ugandan Lawmaker Refuses to Withdraw Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” The Christian Post, 10 January 2010, accessed 15 January 2010, <http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100110/elca-presiding-bishop-addresses-proposed-uganda-homosexuality-law/index.html>.
9 Howard Chua-Eoan, “Rick Warren Denounces Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill,” Time News. 10 December 2010, accessed 17 February 2010, <http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1946921,00.html>.
10 “Hate Begets Hate,”The New York Times, 4 January 2010, accessed 11 January 2010, <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/05/opinion/05tue2.html>.
11 Robert Raffaele, “Obama Condemns Anti-Gay Bill in Uganda,” Voice of America news, 4 February 2010, accessed 17 February 2010, <http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Obama-Condemns-Anti-Gay-Bill-in-Uganda-83594912.html>.
13 “Resolution Condemning Uganda Anti-Gay Bill Introduced in House,” Outword magazine, February 2010, accessed 17 February 2010, <http://www.outwordmagazine.com/index.php/inside-outword/glbt-news/154-resolution-condemning-uganda-anti-gay-bill-introduced-in-house>.
14 Godfrey Olukya, “Ugandan President urges softening of anti-gay bill,” The Washington Post, 7 January 2010, accessed 15 January 2010, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/07/AR2010010700902.html>.

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