By Joto La Jiwe
The Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Anita Among, has given Ugandan legislators the green light to bring an anti-homosexuality bill back to the floor of parliament. The bill is to be debated and possibly passed today (March 1).
The Speaker made the announcement during the Parliament’s ecumenical thanksgiving service yesterday.
“As an institution that passes laws, tomorrow [March 1] we are going to bring the bill on anti-homosexuality. Let us be the light showing people that this is not what should be done. The Bible says a man should marry a woman, not woman to woman and man to man,” Among said.
The proposed new Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was attached to the motion seeking permission to introduce it, calls for a 10-year prison sentence for:
- Same-sex intercourse;
- Anyone who “holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”;
- Anyone who “touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality”; and
- Anyone who marries a person of the same sex.
Anyone convicted of conducting a same-sex wedding would be sentenced to two years in prison.
Conviction for “promoting homosexuality” in person, online, by telephone or in films, or by renting an office to an organization that “promotes homosexuality”, would lead to a prison sentence and a fine of 100 million Ugandan shillings (about U.S. $26,800). The language in this section is unclear. It seems to call for a prison sentence of “a minimum of five years and a maximum of two years”.
The Speaker said the religious service was held to “dedicate the new session of Parliament to God” after a three-week recess. It was organized by Parliament’s Anglican and the Catholic chaplaincy and the Muslim community of Parliament.
Among said Parliament has been provoked by rampant cases of homosexuality reported in schools and other communities.
“What is outside there in schools and communities is about homosexuality; our moral values have been eroded. Now we leaders must be seen to be the light, to guide the country,” she said.
She asked the MPs to support the bill to “demonstrate what the society expects of them”.
“We will not allow an aspect of saying there was no quorum; we are going to vote by show of hands. You are either for homosexuality or not; we want to see the kind of leaders we have in the country,” she said, referring to the Constitutional Court decision in 2014 that overturned that year’s Anti-Homosexuality Act because it was passed without a quorum being present in Parliament.
Yesterday, Parliament granted leave to Bugiri Municipality Member of Parliament, Asuman Basalirwa to introduce his private member’s bill titled the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023”. Like the so-called “Kill the Gays Bill” of 2014, the latest version of the bill seeks to prohibit what the framers refer to as “any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex and prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations”.
While moving the motion, Basalirwa said, “This House had an opportunity to correct the anomaly then [in 2013-2014], but it was lost. We now have another opportunity to follow all the procedures to have a law in place.”
He described homosexuality as a “cancer” eating up the world and said that the legislators needed to join in ensuring the establishment of a law to curb it.
Anti-LGBTQ legislators are pushing for passage of a new anti-homosexuality law despite the fact that Uganda already has such a law, which has not been used for many years. Section 145 of the Ugandan Penal Code, as amended in 2000, provides a penalty of life imprisonment for anyone who “has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”.
Backers of the new bill state that “the existing law as provided for in the Penal Code Act does not adequately address this creeping evil.”
“We always talk about human rights but it is also true that there are human wrongs. Homosexuality is a human wrong that needs to be tackled through a piece of legislation,” Basalirwa said.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mathias Mpuuga, who attended the ecumenical service, stayed away from the subject of homosexuality and instead in his remarks asked God to help leaders in Uganda to desist from being self-seeking, self-serving and domineering over the weak.
“The big take away is that we have a duty towards others. It is very important that we always seek the Lord to guide our ways, because more often than not, power can get the good of us and we lose sight of our duty for others” Mpuuga said.
There has been countrywide anti-gay push in Uganda, championed by religious leaders of all walks of life and many top politicians with President Yoweri Museveni leading the way.
Last week while officiating at the national celebrations to mark Janani Luwum Day at Wii-Gweng village in Mucwini Sub-County, Kitgum District, Museveni said Uganda will not embrace homosexuality and that the West should stop seeking to impose its views to compel dissenting countries to “normalise” what he called “deviations”.
“We are not going to follow people who are lost. These Europeans are not normal; they don’t listen. We have been telling them ‘Please, this problem of homosexuality is not something that you should normalise and celebrate. They don’t listen, they don’t respect other people’s views and they want to turn the abnormal into normal and force it on others. We shall not agree,” Museveni said.
His remarks were in response to pleas by the Church of Uganda Archbishop, Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu, for the government to join the Church in condemning homosexuality and legislate against it.
“Now we request you to give attention to what you have already started because we have homosexuals and other vices attacking our nation. Like late (Archbishop) Luwum was bold, we want to call out government to be bold and come out to fight all these vices that will kill our nation,” Mugalu said.
According to Dr. Frank Mugisha, executive director of the now-suspended LGBTQ rights organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), members of the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda are living in fear.
“Homosexual acts are already illegal and a new law would mean more harassment and discrimination against people who are already vulnerable” he told an international news agency.
In 2014, the Constitutional Court struck down a bill passed by MPs and signed into law by Mr. Museveni that sought to impose life imprisonment for homosexual relations. It was nicknamed the “Kill the Gays” bill because an early version of the bill called for the death penalty for homosexuality.
Joto La Jiwe, the author of this article, is a Ugandan correspondent for the African Human Rights Media Network. He writes under a pseudonym. Contact him at [email protected].