KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan lawmakers Friday passed an anti-gay bill that calls for life imprisonment for certain homosexual acts, drawing criticism from rights campaigners who called it the worst such legislation in the world.
When the bill was first introduced in 2009, it was widely condemned for including the death penalty, but that was removed from the revised version passed by parliament.
Instead it sets life imprisonment as the penalty for a homosexual act in which one of the partners is infected with HIV, for sex with minors and the disabled, and for repeated sexual offenses among consenting adults, according to the office of a spokeswoman for Uganda’s parliament.
The bill also prescribes a seven-year jail term for a person who “conducts a marriage ceremony” for same-sex couples.
Lawmakers passed the bill unanimously, with no one voicing an objection.
President Yoweri Museveni must sign the bill within 30 days for it to become law. Although in the past he spoke disparagingly of gays, in recent times Museveni has softened his position on the matter, saying he is only opposed to gays who appear to “promote” themselves.
“In our society there were a few homosexuals,” Museveni said in March. “There was no persecution, no killings and no marginalization of these people, but they were regarded as deviants.”
The passage of the bill makes it “a truly terrifying day for human rights in Uganda,” said Frank Mugisha, a prominent Ugandan gay activist, who called the legislation “the worst anti-gay law in the world.” He urged the country’s president not to sign the bill into law.
“It will open a new era of fear and persecution,” he said. “If this law is signed by President Museveni, I’d be thrown in jail for life and in all likelihood killed.”
Homosexuality already was illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalized sexual acts “against the order of nature,” but the Ugandan lawmaker who wrote the new legislation argued that tougher legislation was needed because homosexuals from the West threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were allegedly “recruiting” Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.
Despite criticism of the anti-gay legislation abroad, it is supported by many Ugandans who say the country has the right to pass laws that protect its children.
Homosexuality remains a taboo subject across many parts of Africa. Some 38 African countries — about 70 percent of the continent — criminalize homosexual activity, Amnesty International said in a report released earlier this year.