The New Anti-Gay Bill Proposed By The Ugandan Parliament

The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, passed by the parliament of Uganda was a bill that sought to criminalize the practice and culture of homosexuality in Uganda. The bill was previously and colloquially known as the 'Kill the Gays bill' because the bill previously proposed the death penalty, as a punishment, for the practice of homosexuality. However, in reaction to the fervent outburst by the media, local civil rights groups, and the international community as whole, the punishment for homosexuality was reduced to life imprisonment. Even after the bill was 'tamed down', it was still absolutely reprehensible, even by Uganda's own constitutional standards. However, the bill was passed by Uganda's parliament, signed by the president, and became law.

The law was challenged in the Constitutional Court of Uganda and on August of this year, the court struck down the law. This was a huge victory for the gay community in Uganda, and civil rights as a whole, both on a local, national, and international level. However, when the law was struck down, several critics, such as myself, acknowledged that this victory for the gay community in Uganda was at most, short-lived. The problem was that the Constitutional Court of Uganda declared the law unconstitutional, and proceeded to strike it down, on procedural rather than substantive grounds.

The court's reasoning when they struck down the law was that it was passed by Uganda's parliament, without a proper quorum. By not commenting on the substance of the bill, and whether the law was unconstitutional by virtue of the fact that it violated the rights of LGBT persons in Uganda, the courts left open the possibility that the bill could pass through parliament again, insofar as it had the right quorum. Many critics, such as myself, recognized the court's ruling as a victory, but argued that the courts should have commented on the substance of the law, so as to completely negate the possibility that the Ugandan parliament could ever re-uptake the bill again. However, they did not, and now, the law makers in Uganda are thinking about passing another Anti-gay bill in Uganda.

The new bill that the Ugandan parliament wants to pass is called, 'The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill of 2014', and in many ways, it has harsher undertones than the previous anti-gay bill that was struck down by the courts. Section two, subsection D of the law states that "a person who leases or subleases, uses or allows to be used any premises for the purpose of engaging in unnatural sexual practices commits the offence of the promotion of unnatural sexual practices and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding seven years". This part of the law, in essence, allows for the possibility that many homosexuals in Uganda are banished to homelessness because landlords will be reluctant to rent out their houses to people who they suspect are gay because they could, potentially, go to prison.

Section three of the law states that "a person who funds or sponsors another person with intent to promote unnatural sexual practices commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding seven years". Depending on how liberally or conservatively this bill is read, it seems to be the case that it can act to criminalize civil rights groups and NGOs that are working to promote LGBT rights in Uganda. The law also criminalizes people who advertise, publish, print, broadcast, and market the practice of homosexuality to the wider public, and this could potentially criminalize journalists and writers, depending on how it is interpreted, and thus ultimately stifle freedom of expression in Uganda.

My hope is that the Ugandan parliament does not pass this new anti-gay law in Uganda. However, if it does pass this law, the law is so harsh and overreaching, that it might ultimately become its undoing. The law is not simply violating the rights of LGBT persons in Uganda, which constitutes its own independent constitutional challenge. It is also criminalizing the culture of homosexuality, civil rights groups that promote and fight for LGBT rights, and the freedom of expression for Ugandan's as a whole. This overreach will make it a lot harder for them to guise the law as constitutional, and a lot easier for the Constitutional Court in Uganda to strike down the glaringly obvious, unconstitutional law. However, the Ugandan courts should be more open to substantive review of anti-gay laws and the propagation of the culture of homophobia in Uganda, because it is the only way that Uganda's LGBT civil rights battle can really move forward, in a significant way.

However, this legislative practice of criminalizing homosexuality is not limited to Uganda, and it is actually very common in a lot of other African countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya. The culture of homophobia in these said African countries finds its origin in fundamentalist Christianity, colonization, and a need for these countries to redefine their political and social image in the age of post-colonialism and neocolonialism, as antithetical to the Western image and as being resistant to Western influence.

My hope is that more LGBT rights activists and civil rights activists in these countries challenge and fight these laws that criminalize the LGBT community in these said communities, so that one day LGBT persons can live freely and equally in these African countries, and so that the culture of homophobia can be eradicated as a whole. Perhaps this is a bit idealistic, but idealism isn't always a far cry from a potential reality, we just need people to realize that it is possible to fight back, but more than that, that the sacrifice is worth it.