Human rights organizations are watching to see what happens with a measure passed Dec. 20 in Uganda that would make conviction for engaging in some homosexual acts subject to life in prison. An initial proposal would have made some acts, such as spreading HIV/AIDS through sex, punishable by death, but it was later reduced.
Human rights groups fear the law would fuel anti-gay sentiment and lead to more violence against gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals. The bill must be approved by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni within 30 days. A conservative and religious man, Museveni is expected to sign the bill into law, according to news reports.
The U.S. Department of State issued a statement condemning the measure, which President Obama once called “odious.”
“We are deeply concerned by the Ugandan Parliament's passage of anti-homosexuality legislation,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said. “As Americans, we believe that people everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality—and that no-one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or whom they love.”
While gay rights efforts have been successful in some regions of the world, such is not the case in Africa. Laws against committing sodomy long have been on the books in many African nations, making homosexuality illegal. The Ugandan government, saying it was making the move to protect families, went a step farther when it increased the penalties for engaging in some homosexual acts.
Gay rights supporters said they believe the law will lead to increased harassment of gays and supporters.
"The witch hunt had already started, and now it has been legitimized by the parliament of Uganda, which is very scary," Clare Byarugaba, coordinator for the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, told CNN.com. "We don't know how brutal the police will be now that the bill has passed. With this legitimization, it's going to get worse."
But Uganda Minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo disagreed. Conservatives said they felt the need to act to protect Ugandan children and families, who they feel are in danger if homosexuality becomes acceptable.
“What we are convinced and sure of is that nobody can in one's right conscience and consciousness choose to be homosexual. This must be under pressure or conditions because we know that the natural tendency is always for a male to go for a female and vice-versa," Lokodo told CNN.com.
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