Uganda Bill Calling for Life Sentence, Death Penalty for Gays Goes too Far?

Country's Lawmakers Revive Anti-Homosexual Bill Previously Defeated 3 Years Ago

Uganda is once again considering a bill that was defeated three years that calls for those who commit homosexual acts to face life imprisonment and for witnesses and sympathizers of homosexuals to be locked up for up to 14 years. Some argue, however, that lawmakers are overreaching in their aim to protect the country's culture and Christian values. 

The bill was introduced Tuesday by lawmaker David Bahati. A similar bill that called for the death penalty for homosexuals was defeated three years ago after international pressure. The revised bill is likely to garner more support in the deeply religious African country, although a reading of the bill has not yet been made public to determine if the death penalty clause has been dropped.

"This is a piece of legislation that is needed in this country to protect the traditional family here in Africa, and also protect the future of our children," Bahati said of the anti-homosexual bills to CNN. "Every single day of my life now I am still pushing that it passes."

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda and punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

Amnesty International called the new legislative effort a "grave assault on human rights," and called for the global community to encourage Ugandan activists and lawmakers to strike down the measure.

"It's alarming and disappointing that Uganda's Parliament will once again consider the Anti-Homosexuality Bill," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's Deputy Africa Program Director, in a statement. "If passed, it would represent a grave assault on the human rights of all Ugandans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Amnesty says the bill would put human rights in great danger for thousands of Ugandans as it imperils more than homosexuals.

"The knock-on effect of passing this bill would reach far beyond gay and lesbian people in Uganda, impeding the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders," Kagari argued.

In addition to codifying a life imprisonment for couples that engage in same-sex marriage, strict punishment is in line for any group that promotes gay rights (including Amnesty International), as well as any person who witnesses homosexual activity and does not report it to authorities within 24 hours.

"This deplorable bill would not only violate the rights of Ugandans to life, to non-discrimination, to equality before the law, and to privacy, but would sanction hatred, violence and the persecution of a group of people based on whom they love alone," Kagari said.

Uganda is not the only country to enact strict anti-gay legislation on the continent. Nearly every African nation prohibits same-sex marriage, and countries like Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and others have harsh penalties for those who commit homosexual acts.

Nigeria voted in November to criminalize gay marriage with one lawmaker going as far as to say that "such elements in society should be killed."

Speaking at an Oct. 31 hearing, Nigerian Senate President David Mark called his Christian faith into his defense of the bill.

"My faith as a Christian abhors it. It is incomprehensible to contemplate on same-sex marriage. I cannot understand it. I cannot be a party to it," Mark said.

Like in many African nations, lawmakers in the Nigerian government see homosexual behavior as a foreign import – a bane on the nation's pure culture and a remnant of imperialism.

"There are enough men and women to marry each other. The whole idea is the importation of foreign culture, but this one would be a freedom too many. We cannot allow our tradition and value system [to be] eroded," Mark said.

In southern and middle Africa, Christians comprise a significant majority of the population. About 84 percent of Ugandans are Christian.

Regarding the previous bill to criminalize homosexuality, the Church of Uganda issued a statement in support of the measure but called for "proportionality in sentencing" although the church did not outright condemn the death penalty for homosexuals.

The Church of Uganda also said it would like to work with homosexuals to reverse their orientation and asked that the bill be amended to prohibit punishment of religious figures who work with homosexuals.

The church has not yet issued a statement on the new bill.

U.S. President Barack Obama joined a chorus of international voices and called the 2012 bill "odious." U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urged the Ugandan parliament to reject the bill immediately.

No date has been set for the initial vote on the bill.