Ugandan president urges softening of anti-gay bill
A provision that would impose the death penalty for some gays is likely to be removed from the proposed legislation following opposition from Uganda’s president, the country’s ethics minister said Thursday.
President Yoweri Museveni has told colleagues he believes the bill is too harsh and has encouraged his ruling National Resistance Movement Party to overturn the death sentence provision, which would apply to sexually active gays living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape.
The proposed bill, though, says anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment and it is unclear whether Museveni supports that provision or not.
Gay rights activists say the bill promotes hatred and could set back efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in the conservative East African country. Protests already have been held in London, New York and Washington.
"The death penalty is likely to be removed," said James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s minister of state for ethics and integrity. "The president doesn’t believe in killing gays. I also don’t believe in it. I think gays can be counseled and they stop the bad habit."
Ruling party spokeswoman Mary Karoro Okurut said she also agrees with the president that some punishments in the bill should be dropped. But she said she will still push for a modified version of the bill when it comes to parliament in late February or early March.
"Although the president is against some parts of the bill, the bill has to stay," she said. "(Homosexuality) is not allowed in African culture. We have to protect the children in schools who are being recruited into homosexual activities."
Frank Mugisha, leader of Sex Minorities Uganda, said the gay-rights group will campaign for and support President Yoweri Museveni in the 2011 polls because of his opposition to the bill’s harsher provisions.
"If one scratches your back you also scratch his back," Mugisha said. "Museveni’s action shows that he is a true democrat. As a head of state he is doing the right thing of protecting all interests of its citizens including those of the minorities."
The group said it has received a growing number of complaints of harassment from gays and lesbians across the country since the legislation was first proposed.
Julian Peppe, the group’s program coordinator, said she was chased by a crowd of angry people while trying to leave a supermarket on Christmas Eve in the capital.
"I can no longer move out of my house due to fear of being beaten up by people," Peppe said.
The measure was proposed in Uganda following a visit by leaders of U.S. conservative Christian ministries that promote therapy for gays to become heterosexual. However, at least one of those leaders has denounced the bill, as have some other conservative and liberal Christians in the United States.
The Catholic church in Uganda has said it supports the bill but not the death penalty provision.
But a group of non-traditional churches has accused Museveni of siding with gays and maintains that the Bible supports killing gays. The churches accuse the president of bowing to pressure from Uganda’s many international donors.
"If Museveni manages to convince parliament to drop the anti-gay bill, that will be the worst tragedy to befall Uganda," said Pastor Solomon Male, the chairman of the church coalition, Arising for Christ. "Uganda should not dance to the tune of donors. We have our values to protect."
Anglican Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who is one of the global fellowship’s most senior priests, has said he condemns the proposed law in his native country.