(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
U.S. President Barack Obama is placing pressure on Uganda President Yoweri Museveni not to sign a controversial anti-gay bill that could make "aggravated homosexuality" punishable by life imprisonment, warning that such a law could strain relationships between the two countries.
Obama said in a statement on Sunday that as a people, the U.S. stands for the protection of fundamental freedoms and universal human rights, and that is why he is so "deeply disappointed that Uganda will shortly enact legislation that would criminalize homosexuality."
"The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda's commitment to protecting the human rights of its people," Obama warned. "It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights."
The bill in question was approved by Uganda's parliament in December, and seeks to make repeated gay acts punishable by life in prison, as well as threatening jail time for anyone who fails to report gay people. It has been largely condemned by the international community, and a previous version of the bill even sought to impose the death penalty for people caught in gay acts.
A spokesman for the Uganda government said on Friday that Museveni is expected to sign the bill, after medical experts reportedly presented him with a report that stated homosexuality is not a genetic condition but a social behavior, Time.com reported.
White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Sunday that she has personally spoken with Museveni and urged him to reconsider signing the controversial bill.
"Spoke at length with President Museveni last night to urge him not to sign anti-LGBT bill," Rice said in a Twitter post.
"Deeply saddened this decision will put many at risk and stain Uganda's reputation," she added.
Uganda MP David Bahati previously described the passing of the bill as a victory for the African country, where over 83 percent of the population is said to be Christian.
"Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks," Bahati said.
Obama affirmed in his statement that if the bill becomes law, it will "complicate our valued relationship with Uganda."
"At a time when, tragically, we are seeing an increase in reports of violence and harassment targeting members of the LGBT community from Russia to Nigeria, I salute all those in Uganda and around the world who remain committed to respecting the human rights and fundamental human dignity of all persons," the U.S. president said.