Bad news for global LGBT rights: Uganda's parliament approved a new, harsh anti-gay law Friday. The new legislation calls for life imprisonment for "aggravated homosexuality." It also calls for a seven-year prison sentence for those who perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, and requires citizens to report acts of homosexual sex — or face a prison sentence. President Yoweri Museveni has yet to sign it into law.
The parliament defines "aggravated homosexuality" as "a homosexual act where one of the partners is infected with HIV, sex with minors and the disabled, as well as repeated sexual offenses among consenting adults." Poor syntax aside, the legislation would therefore bar sexual relations between consenting, same-sex adult partners.
Somewhat surprisingly, the legislation, though dire, isn't as bad as the bill's previous incarnation. Introduced four years ago, that version of the bill made homosexuality a crime carrying the death sentence, and required citizens to report acts of homosexual sex within 24 hours. Luckily that version was withdrawn, and the bill was shelved until now.
But the most dangerous effects of the bill aren't only its draconian punishments. There are sure to be rippling social effects: the legislation creates a climate of anti-gay sentiment by requiring citizens to self-police each other out of fear of a prison sentence. Human rights groups are, naturally, decrying the recent bill, calling it a "terrifying day for human rights."
"It will open a new era of fear and persecution," Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha said. "If this law is signed by President Museveni, I'd be thrown in jail for life and in all likelihood killed."
On the other side of argument were evangelical pastors, some of whom were financed and supported by American churches. And they got their way, easily. Ugandan members of parliament passed the bill on the grounds that they were a "God-fearing nation" and that "traditional family values" needed to be protected out of a fear that the West was corrupting and "recruiting" Ugandan youth into homosexuality through its message of acceptance.
“I am glad the Parliament has voted against evil," MP David Bahati, who wrote the original 2009 legislation, said. "Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way ... It is because of those values that members of Parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks.” Bahati is a key Ugandan member of The Family, a Christian fundamentalist group with heavy political connections on Capitol Hill.
Homosexuality has been illegal and carried criminal repercussions in Uganda since its colonial era, where it was classified as an offense "against the order of nature." In 2012, LGBT activists organized the country's first gay-rights parade. But the reintroduction of the tabled bill last year — along with parliament speaker Rebecca Kadaga's pledge last year that the anti-homosexuality bill would be a "Christmas present for all Ugandans" — only deepened tensions.
This bill comes on the heels of the Anti-Pornography Bill passed by Uganda's parliament Thursday banning miniskirts and other "sexually explicit" clothing, as well as "sexually suggestive" media, such as some music videos.