Ugandan Lawmaker Refuses to Withdraw Anti-Homosexuality Bill

The Ugandan lawmaker who proposed a highly contentious bill that would, if enacted, broaden the criminalization of homosexuality in the east African nation said Friday that he will refuse any request to withdraw the legislation.

Member of Parliament David Bahati said he felt the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" is necessary to protect Uganda's children from being "recruited" into homosexuality.

"I stand by the bill. I will not withdraw it," Bahati said.

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"The process of legislating a law to protect our children against homosexuality and defending our family values must go on," he added.

Bahati's statement was made one day after Minister of State for Investment Aston Kajara said the government would ask Bahati to scrap the bill because they fear backlash from foreign investors.

"Ever since the bill was tabled, there have been a lot of outcries not only here but from all over the world," Kajara said. "There has been negative publicity on Uganda which is not good for investment. As government, we shall talk to the private member who brought it to parliament and request him to withdraw it."

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which Bahati proposed in September, has provoked criticism and protests internationally, including in the United States, where both liberal and conservative church leaders have expressed their opposition.

In a letter dated Friday to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said the church body is "gravely concerned" that the measure would, in certain cases,
impose the death penalty for persons convicted of "aggravated homosexuality."

Though homosexuality is currently illegal in Uganda – as it is in many sub-Saharan African countries – the proposed legislation reportedly seeks to strengthen the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda by introducing the death penalty for people who are considered serial offenders, are suspected of "aggravated homosexuality" and are HIV-positive, or who engage in sexual acts with those under 18 years of age.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, in his letter, insisted that the enactment of such legislation would be "an abhorrent injustice and outside the norms and standards of internationally-recognized human rights."

"For the ELCA such an action would be inconsistent with various aspects of our church's social policy," he said, noting the church body's social statements on death penalty, peace, and human sexuality – the last of which was adopted last year to much controversy.

Hanson said all the statements affirm the foundational human dignity of each person created in the image of God.

Also speaking out against the bill has been evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who denounced the measure and said passing it would have "a chilling effect" on the HIV/AIDS ministry of churches in Uganda.

Christian humanitarian organization World Vision similarly expressed concern over how Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill may deter their work against the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The proposed legislation "has the potential to stigmatize some individuals in communities targeted by World Vision's work" and prevent individuals from being tested, said Rudo Kwaramba, World Vision Uganda's national director.

Despite criticisms, bill sponsor Bahati and those supporting the legislation insist that it is based on the foundations of "strengthening the nation's capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family" and "protect[ing] the cherished culture of the people of Uganda, legal, religious, and traditional family values of the people of Uganda against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda."

Notably, however, some supporters – including Uganda's Catholic leadership – say they do not support the death penalty provision.

Pastors in Uganda from such groups as Orthodox Church in Uganda and Roman Catholic Church in Uganda have recommended that the death penalty sentence be reduced to 20 years imprisonment.

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