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Uganda's bill to imprison gays for life is an outrage that should be rejected

Thursday, January 7, 2010; A16

THE ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY Bill of 2009 is an ugly and ignorant piece of legislation being considered in Uganda. If it is approved, the gay people of that nation would be subject to life in prison. This retreat from the death sentence originally proposed should neither be celebrated nor considered a concession by the government in response to pressure from the United States and other nations. The proposal is barbaric. That it is even being considered puts Uganda beyond the pale of civilized nations.

The nine-page bill, which says that "homosexual behavior and related practices" are a "threat to the traditional family," is an offense from beginning to end. The framers say it is needed to "protect" the country from those "seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda." They say the bill is also needed because children and youth "are made vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation. . . ." Among the corrupting influences are "uncensored technologies" and "increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children. . . ."

The law would apply to citizens or permanent residents of Uganda, and would cover behavior both in and outside that country. The measure would turn neighbor against neighbor by requiring those with knowledge of a gay person to report them to police within 24 hours or risk three years in prison. A seven-year jail term awaits the Ugandan who "aids, abets, [or] counsels" homosexuals. And anyone convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," which could mean someone who is HIV-positive and is intimate with another person of the same sex, could "suffer death."

The legislation talks about the "cherished culture" of Uganda and its "legal, religious, and traditional family values." We respect a nation's right to defend its culture and values. But sentencing men and women to life imprisonment because of their sexual orientation is an atrocity. Gays and lesbians would be punished by their own government for who they are. Contrary to the backward thinking of the Ugandan government, being gay is not a choice. But pushing homophobic laws that foment hate is.

The United States and other nations have urged officials to shelve the bill. So far, their entreaties have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit opening Friday in Trinidad and Tobago, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who will chair the gathering, can be persuaded to listen to the growing international outrage. If Uganda approves the anti-homosexuality bill, it risks making itself a pariah among nations.

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