A Ugandan legislator who proposed the highly contested Anti-Homosexuality Bill insists the measure is being misconstrued.
"There has been a distortion in the media that we are providing death for gays. That is not true," ruling party MP David Bahati said on BBC. "When a homosexual defiles a kid of less than 18 years old, we are providing a penalty for this."
The bill, which is currently being debated by a parliamentary committee, has drawn global attention from gay rights advocates and religious leaders alike, many of whom are condemning the legislation for promoting hatred and handing down severe penalties against homosexuals and their family, friends, and even pastors. Punishments range from a fine and a three-year imprisonment to life imprisonment and the death penalty.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda and can be punished with life imprisonment. But the anti-homosexuality legislation was designed to "fill the gaps" in the provisions of existing laws and "strengthen the nation's capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family."
Bahati told BBC that homosexuality is neither a human right nor is it in-born.
"It is a behavior learned and it can be unlearned," he said on BBC.
Some religious leaders in Uganda are backing the legislation, but many more within and outside the country are gravely concerned.
"Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, in our churches, communities and families, we seek to embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as God's children worthy of respect and love," said a group of U.S. Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant leaders, in a statement Monday.
Most recently, on Thursday, evangelical Pastor Rick Warren released a video to Ugandan pastors detailing his opposition to the bill and correcting media reports that state otherwise.
As a pastor, he said it is not his role to interfere with the politics of other nations, he said it is his role to speak out on moral issues.
Warren called the Anti-Homosexuality bill "unjust, extreme and un-Christian" toward homosexuals.
"ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God," said Warren, who works with pastors in Uganda on the "Purpose Driven" campaign and P.E.A.C.E. Plan.
Passing the bill would have "a chilling effect" on the HIV/AIDS ministry of churches in Uganda, the southern California pastor added. With the proposed legislation threatening to penalize those who provide counseling to someone struggling with their sexuality and work with people infected with HIV/AIDS and who do not report the homosexual within 24 hours of knowledge, fewer people who are HIV positive will seek care from the churches out of fear of being reported.
"You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation," the megachurch pastor said in his video message.
While affirming that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman and that all sex outside of marriage is not what God intends, Warren also stressed, "Jesus also taught us that the greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since God created all, and Jesus suffered and died for all, then we are to treat all with respect.
"The Great Commandment has been the centerpiece of my life and ministry for over 35 years."
According to Bloomberg, a refined version of the bill is expected to be presented to Parliament in two weeks. Dr. James Nsaba Buturo, minister of Uganda for Ethics and Integrity, told Bloomberg that the draft bill will drop the death penalty and life imprisonment for gays.
Before the changes, which have not yet been made, the measure stated that persons who commit the offense of "aggravated homosexuality" – where the offense is committed against those below the age of 18 and where the offender is living with HIV – shall be liable on conviction to suffer death and to imprisonment for life. Another provision nullifies international treaties, protocols, and declarations that are "contradictory to the spirit and provisions enshrined in this act."