Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill dead?

By Gregory Branch — Special to GlobalPost
Published: May 12, 2010 06:43 ET

KAMPALA, Uganda — The harsh Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which calls for the death penalty in some cases, suffered a serious setback when a legal committee advised that it be withdrawn from parliament.

The fate of the controversial legislation hangs in the balance with powerful forces both for and against the bill.

The legislation provoked an international uproar when it was proposed to parliament in October 2009. In addition to executions, it threatens long jail terms to anyone, including family members, who does not report homosexuals to the police.

The bill was proposed by member of parliament David Bahati, a member of President Yoweri Museveni's ruling party, the National Resistance Movement. The bill was backed by a number of influential evangelical ministers, some of whom are associated with and have received financing from American evangelical preachers.

At first it looked like the bill was assured passage and it was supported by demonstrations through the Kampala's streets by large crowds.

However international outrage, criticism from human rights groups and objections from major donors like Sweden, prompted the Kampala government to be wary of the bill. In mid-January Museveni issued a statement distancing himself from the bill. He appointed a cabinet committee to review the bill. The committee on May 7 recommended that the bill be withdrawn.

The committee's report found that the bill has "technical defects in form and content" and that many of the clauses are either unconstitutional or redundant of existing laws. Furthermore, the committee recommends deflecting negative attention away from the bill by changing its title or combining it with Uganda's existing law, the Sexual Offenses Act.

Only Clause 13 of the anti-gay bill — which addresses the promotion of homosexuality — “was worthy of consideration,” according to the report.

The cabinet committee suggests that the “useful provisions of the proposed law” should be incorporated into the existing Sexual Offenses Act. The committee agreed that promotion of homosexuality should be criminalized.

Some Ugandans remain completely against the anti-gay bill, like the Rev. Mark Kiyimba of the Uganda Unitarian Universalist Church, a self-proclaimed bisexual.

“Although the committee has made these recommendations, the bill is still a [Uganda Parliament] private member’s bill and can still be passed, in its original form," said Kiyimba. "Unless you can tell me that Bahati [the author of the bill] has changed his stance and is against the bill, it can still be passed.”

Life for gays in Kampala is difficult.

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