(Photo: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has refused to sign a controversial parliament-approved bill that would make "aggravated homosexuality," including repeated gay acts, punishable by life imprisonment, insisting that homosexuality is an "abnormality" from which people can be "rescued."
"The question at the core of the debate of homosexuality is, what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or we do contain him/her?" Museveni wrote in a letter to the parliament, according to Daily Monitor.
The president suggested that lesbians choose female partners because of "sexual starvation" that comes from failing to marry a man, and proposed that a better economy can stop people from becoming gay.
The controversial bill initially sought to impose the death penalty for gay acts, something which has been criticized by U.S. President Barack Obama and Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren. It was changed to make life in prison the maximum penalty for such offenses. The bill also bans the promotion of homosexuality, and threatens jail for those who fail to report gay people in the African country, where close to 84 percent of the population is said to be Christian.
Uganda MP David Bahati, who was behind the bill that was approved by parliament in December, described it as a "victory for Uganda" at the time.
"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.
In his letter explaining his opposition to the legislation, however, Museveni argued that "even with legislation, they will simply go underground and continue practicing homosexuality or lesbianism for mercenary reasons."
The president also criticized the group of MPs who pushed the bill, saying that he had warned them to put it aside until the government studied it in-depth.
"Some elements, however, insisted and even without quorum of parliament, passed it," Museveni said. "How can you pass law without the quorum of parliament after it has been pointed out? What sort of Parliament is this? How can parliament be the one to break the Constitution and the law repeatedly?"
Still, Uganda's leader said that he would support a life sentence for people who lure youths into "these disgusting behaviors," in which he included homosexuality.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups had called on Museveni to veto the anti-gay bill, calling it a "grave assault on human rights."
"Passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was a retrograde step for Uganda's Parliament, which has made some important progress on human rights in recent years, including criminalizing torture," said Aster van Kregten, deputy Africa director at Amnesty International, in December.
"It flies in the face of the Ugandan government's stated commitment to ensure all legislation complies with human rights."