Why Uganda is proposing a new, tougher anti-gay law

The proposed Uganda legislation would criminalize homosexuality, and could be potentially more far-reaching than the anti-gay law that a court struck down in August. 

Rebecca Vassie/AP/File
A transgender Ugandan poses in front of a rainbow flag during the 3rd Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride celebrations in Entebbe, Uganda, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Scores of Ugandan homosexuals and their supporters held a gay pride parade on a beach in the lakeside town of Entebbe. The parade was their first public event since a Ugandan court invalidated an anti-gay law that was widely condemned by some Western governments and rights watchdogs.

A new anti-gay law in Uganda will avoid reference to homosexuality and focus on the existing penal code prohibiting "unnatural acts."

The new legislation, which is expected to be introduced in the next two months, would result in seven-year jail sentences for people "promoting homosexuality," according to The Guardian.

An unnamed government official told the BBC that the new law would withstand legal challenge, and legislation against gay people would boost government approval ratings.

But pressure from Western governments could quash efforts to criminalize homosexuality in the so-called Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill.

The anonymous minister called the bill a "streamlined version" of the annulled Anti-Homosexuality Act, according to the BBC.

That original law – which mandated jail terms of up to life for those convicted of engaging in gay sex and allowed lengthy terms for "attempted homosexuality" as well as "promotion of homosexuality" – was declared illegal by Uganda's Constitutional Court in August because it was passed without a parliamentary quorum.

But the colonial-era law criminalizing sex acts "against the order of nature" is still in effect.

And activists are calling the new legislative proposal more draconian than the act that was repealed in August.

Frank Mugisha, a gay-rights activist, told The Guardian that the "promotion" part of the law would affect "everyone," including newspapers who cover homosexuality and human rights groups that address LGBT issues. He also said it would increase violence against gay people.

While President Yoweri Museveni's party has been pushing for anti-gay legislation in the socially conservative country, he has hesitated because of the economic impact of a crackdown.  

Although the legislation has wide support in Uganda, it has been condemned in the West.

The United States cut aid to the country after it passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, and those funds haven't been reinstated, a sign that foreign donors are watching for the Uganda's next step, the BBC reported.

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