Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Till Life Imprisonment Do You Part

Clause by Clause Through Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Part 1 begins here.

Jim Burroway

November 18th, 2012

The proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009, as published in the official Uganda Gazette on September 25, 2009.

The proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009, as published in the official Uganda Gazette on September 25, 2009. (Click to download, PDF: 847KB/16 pages.)

There is now a renewed push by Uganda’s Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to pass the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Parliament breaks for Christmas on December 15. The bill is currently in the hands of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, but Kadaga has demanded that the committee report back to the House with its recommendations by November 20.

There has been considerable confusion over what would happen if the bill were to become law. Most of the attention has focused on the bill’s death penalty provision, but even if it were removed, the bill’s other eighteen clauses would still represent a barbaric regression for Uganda’s human rights record. In an update to a series which first appeared last February, we will examine the original text of the bill’s nineteen clauses to uncover exactly what it includes in its present form.

The bill’s memorandum, which serves as a prologue, gives its first objective as “provid(ing) for marriage in Uganda as that contracted only between a man and a woman.” It’s odd, then, that it waits until Clause 12 before it finally gets around to making it a criminal offense:

12. Same sex marriage.
A person who purports to contract a marriage with another person of the same sex commits the offence of homosexuality and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.

In more than half of the states of the U.S., same-sex marriage is banned, as it is in most other parts of the world. Where it is banned, nearly every other jurisdiction is satisfied to simply make such an arrangement a legal impossibility. But it is an exceptionally rare country (is there another one?) that goes so far as turning marriage into a criminal offense, let alone one such as Uganda that carries a penalty of a lifetime in prison. And yet, that is exactly what this bill would do. Any Ugandan who presents another person of the same sex as a spouse has broken a law so severe that the individual would be cast for the rest of his or her life into a Ugandan prison.

But not only that, it would appear possible that with the clause beginning with “a person who purports to contract a marriage…” might endanger any foreign married visitor who enters Uganda, either as a business person or a tourist, who mentions his or her same-sex spouse to anyone in Uganda.

Recommendations from the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee in May, 2011 (Click to download, PDF: 57KB/6 pages.)

Incredibly, when the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee reported back to Parliament in May 2011, it decided that Clause 12 didn’t go far enough. They recommended the following:

Clause 12 is amended by inserting a new sub-clause (2) as follows-

“(2) A person or institution commits an offence if that person or institution conducts a marriage ceremony between persons of the same sex and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment to a maximum of three years for individuals or cancellation of licence for an institution”.

Justification

To prohibit celebration of same sex marriages

The justification is telling: anyone who wants to celebrate with the happy couple is also breaking the law. Celebrations will not be permitted in Uganda. And neither is religious freedom, at least not for those religions which affirm the equality of LGBT people in marriage. The committee however failed to notice that the prohibition runs counter to Uganda’s constitution (PDF: 460KB/192 pages), which under Chapter 4, Article 29, (Page 42) includes the following:

(1) Every person shall have the right to—

…(c) freedom to practise any religion and manifest such practice which shall include the right to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organisation in a manner consistent with this Constitution;

Clause By Clause With Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill:
Clauses 1 and 2: Anybody Can Be Gay Under the Law. The definition of what constitutes “homosexual act” is so broad that just about anyone can be convicted.
Clause 3: Anyone Can Be “Liable To Suffer Death”. And you don’t even have to be gay to be sent to the gallows.
Clause 4: Anyone Can “Attempt to Commit Homosexuality”. All you have to do is “attempt” to “touch” “any part of of the body” “with anything else” “through anything” in an act that does “not necessarily culminate in intercourse.”
Clauses 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10: How To Get Out Of Jail Free. The bill is written to openly encourage — and even pay — one partner to turn state’s evidence against another.
Clauses 7, 11, and 14: Straight People In The Crosshairs. Did you think they only wanted to jail gay people? They’re also targeting family members, doctors, lawyers, and even landlords.
Clause 12: Till Life Imprisonment Do You Part. And if you officiate a same-sex wedding, you’ll be imprisoned for up to three years. So much for religious freedom.
Clause 13: The Silencing of the Lambs. All advocacy — including suggesting that the law might be repealed — will land you in jail. With this clause, there will be no one left to defend anyone.
Clause 14: The Requirement Isn’t To Report Just Gay People To Police. It’s To Report Everyone. Look closely: the requirement is to report anyone who has violated any the bill’s clauses.
Clauses 16 and 17: The Extra-Territorially Long Arm of Ugandan Law. Think you’re safe if you leave the country? Think again.
Clause 18: We Don’t Need No Stinking Treaties. The bill not only violates several international treaties, it also turns the Ugandan constitution on its head.
Clauses 15 and 19: The Establishment Clauses For The Ugandan Inquisition. These clauses empower the Ethics and Integrity Minister to enforce all of the bill’s provisions. He’s already gotten a head start.

Steve

November 18th, 2012

I think Wisconsin actually has a law on the books that gives you fine of several thousand dollars if you enter a marriage that is illegal in the state. But it’s not prison and there would be a huge uproar if they ever tried to enforce it.

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