On January 17, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda refused to sign the Anti Homosexuality Bill (it’s official name) and sent it back to Parliament.
However, Museveni is no friend of the LGBT movements; his reason to not sign the bill was that it was passed without quorum (the minimum number of Parliamentarians voting on a bill) and most observers suspect he had Western donors in mind.
This piece of legislation has been around since September 2009, when it was first introduced by MP David Bahati and gained global media attention under the moniker “Kill the Gays Bill.”
In its original form, the bill prescribed the death sentence for those found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality;” this included an odd mix of extenuating circumstances, such as if the guilty party is HIV-positive, is committing pedophilia or is a “serial offender.”
The Anti Homosexuality Bill would not be the first piece of legislation to punish LGBTs. Currently, the 1950 penal code, left over from British colonial times, makes it a crime for gay men to engage (notably, the bill says nothing about lesbians).
The Bill’s support comes from the country’s religious leaders; even the current Minister of Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo, a major supporter of the bill, is an ex-priest.
Uganda, like most of Africa (South Africa being the notable exception) has very limited public support for LGBT rights; according to Pew Global Values, around four percent of the population reports being in support.
After the Bill’s introduction in 2009, it was shelved, and President Museveni warned Parliamentarians to “go slow” after he came under intense criticism from a number of foreign governments and rights organizations.
In the 2012 version that is currently under consideration, the death sentence has been swapped out for life sentences, yet it is a crime to not report any suspected LGBT citizens.
There is another twist to the tale: six months before the introduction of this bill, MP David Bahati and many others attended a three-day anti-gay conference by American Scott Lively, the president of the Abiding Truth Ministries.
Scott is known for publishing “The Pink Swastika,” a book that purports to uncover the “hidden central role of the ‘gays’ in the rise of the Nazi Party and the administration of the Third Reich.”
He’s a deeply controversial figure (his book has been shredded by several historians, to no great surprise) and is now facing charges by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) for his role in Uganda.
Scott is accused under alien tort statute (allowing foreigners to charge Americans for human rights violations in foreign lands) of persecution — not a hard case to make, as he repeatedly compares pedophilia to consensual same-gender sex.
President Museveni can kick the bill back to parliament twice before they need a two-thirds majority to send the bill back to him.
He is in an odd position — seemingly homophobic by nature, he has no great love for ‘Western values’ but similarly does not seek criticism and controversy; perhaps oddest of all, a leaked diplomatic cable claimed his born-again wife was behind the bill.
Let us hope that in President Museveni’s decision-making between a balanced budget and homophobic populism, he does not listen to whatever logic led him to believe lesbians begin “when they fail to get married.”