Ugandan lawmakers debate anti-gay bill


A member of the Ugandan gay community carries a picture of murdered gay activist David Kato during his funeral near Mataba, on January 28, 2011. Although the police claims it was most likely a petty crime, targeting Kato's money, many members of the gay and the human rights community hold the Ugandan government responsible for not battling the growing resentments against homosexuals in the Ugandan society. Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries and is punishable by a prison sentence.



Ugandan lawmakers have indicated that an anti-gay bill that would punish homosexuality with harsh penalties could be voted on as early as this week.

A parliamentary committee yesterday held a second day of hearings on the bill, which was originally proposed in 2009 and faced a storm of criticism over a death penalty provision, the Associated Press reports. A committee meeting last Friday was the first public discussion of the bill since it was put forward 18 months ago.

The bill is undergoing debate, and a final version is expected to be made public before a vote in parliament is held. It is not yet clear which provisions will be included in the final bill, which could be ready as early as today and presented for a vote at the end of the week, the AP reports.

The original bill included capital punishment for “serial offenders” of homosexuality and for active homosexuals who were in HIV-positive, or for cases of same-sex rape. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life in prison, and anyone who "aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality" would face seven years in prison, including landlords who rent rooms to homosexuals.

David Bahati, the bill’s author, told the AP last month that the death penalty provision was "something we have moved away from.”

One of the bill’s main supporters, an anti-gay pastor named Martin Ssempa, told the committee that he doesn’t support the death penalty provision and instead thinks that gays should face up to seven years in prison.

"The parliament should be given the opportunity to discuss and pass the bill, because homosexuality is killing our society," Ssempa told the committee, the AP reports.

Pastors in Uganda, a mainly Christian country, are highly vocal about their opposition to homosexuality. Gay activists say that anti-gay sentiment in Uganda, including harassment and violence against homosexuals, has increased since the bill’s introduction.
The New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said in a statement that it was “shocked” that this "heinous piece of legislation” could become law.

Cary Alan Johnson, executive director, said that the renewed focus on the anti-gay bill is intended to deflect attention from an ongoing crackdown by Ugandan security forces on opposition protesters.

"There can be no reason to pass this bill other than to take the attention of Ugandans — and the rest of the world — away from the fact that Uganda is slipping into political chaos," Johnson said in a statement.