Ugandan lawmakers on Friday passed an anti-gay law that toughens the punishment for homosexuality, which will see repeat offenders jailed for life. The bill also makes it illegal to not report gay people and criminalizes the public promotion of homosexuality — including discussions by rights groups.
The bill drew wide condemnation when it was first introduced in 2009, with U.S. President Barack Obama calling it "odious." The original proposal included the death penalty, but that was removed from the revised version passed by parliament.
David Bahati, the lawmaker behind the bill, told the French news agency Agence France-Presse, "This is a victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil.
"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 argued that the law was needed to deter Western homosexuals whom he accused of "recruiting" Ugandan children. He said homosexuals from the West threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were luring Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.
Ugandan gays disputed this account, saying that Ugandan political and religious leaders had come under the influence of American evangelicals who wanted to spread their anti-gay campaign in Africa. Ugandan gays singled out Scott Lively, a Massachusetts evangelical, and sued him in March 2012 under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows noncitizens to file suit in the U.S. if there is an alleged violation of international law.
Lively denied he wanted severe punishment for gays, and has previously told The Associated Press he never advocated violence against gays but advised therapy for them.
Over the years Ugandan gay men and lesbians had come to believe progress was being made in defense of their rights in a country where homophobia is rampant. In 2012 they held their first gay pride parade, and they have sometimes joined street marches in support of all human rights.
But gay men and women in the country still face frequent harassment and threats of violence.
Activists have repeatedly reported cases of lesbians being subjected to "corrective" rapes. In 2011, prominent Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death at his home after a newspaper splashed photos, names and addresses of gays in Uganda on the front page. Homosexuality was then illegal under a colonial-era law that criminalized sexual acts "against the order of nature." It is currently a crime in 38 African countries.
The new law sparked a strong reaction from activists.
"I am officially illegal," Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha said after the vote.
Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch said that President Yoweri Museveni "should not sign the abhorrent anti-homosexuality law just passed."
The vote comes a day after parliament passed an anti-pornography law that bans anything that "shows sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks," according to the Ugandan newspaper Monitor.
Local media critics responded with derision, dubbing it the "anti-miniskirt" law because it proscribes wearing miniskirts.
In 2008, then–Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo tried to pass similar legislation, claiming a woman wearing provocative clothing risked causing traffic accidents by distracting drivers.
Museveni caused an uproar in 2012 when he told female students to "keep a padlock on your private parts until the time comes to open them when you have a husband."
Al Jazeera and wire services