Uganda leader wants law against "abnormal" gays shelved

by Reuters
Friday, 17 January 2014 17:44 GMT

Two bride figurines are seen during a rally in response to the California Supreme Court's ruling regarding Proposition 8 in Hollywood, California, U.S., May 26, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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Uganda's parliament has passed a law on Dec. 20 that makes some homosexual acts punishable by life in prison and sent it to President Yoweri Museveni for signing.

* MPs originally sought death penalty for gays

* President needs to please conservative constituency

* Western donors have denounced anti-gay law

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The Ugandan president has said he wants an anti-gay bill shelved for further study but described gays as abnormal and said some lesbians may be victims of "sexual starvation", according to a letter he sent to the speaker of parliament.

Uganda's parliament passed a law on Dec. 20 that makes some homosexual acts punishable by life in prison and sent it to President Yoweri Museveni for signing. Under law, he has 30 days to sign a bill or return it to be amended or scrapped.

Homosexuality is taboo in many African countries. It is illegal in 37 nations on the continent, and activists say that few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and loss of their jobs.

Referring to the bill in a letter to the speaker written on Dec. 28 but obtained by Reuters and other media on Friday, Museveni said: "This is ... something we had advised to shelve until we had studied it in depth."

The bill was first introduced in 2009, and initially proposed a death sentence for sexual acts, but was amended to prescribe jail terms and life in jail for what it called aggravated homosexuality.

It becomes law if Museveni rejects it a third time. He did not say whether he had returned the bill.

Museveni is stuck between pleasing a conservative local constituency vehemently opposed to homosexuality and trying to avoid alienating Western aid donors who have denounced the law.

The United States and others have already criticised the bill. Germany cut aid to the East African state last year, citing concerns about the bill.

Museveni said he treated homosexuals as abnormal because "the normal person was created to be attracted to the opposite sex". But he disagreed with jailing or killing gay people.

"How about the women lesbians? Apart from the ones that are born abnormal and the ones that may become lesbian for mercenary reasons, there may be those that go into that practice because of sexual starvation when they fail to get married," he said.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, but the new law prohibits the "promotion" of gay rights and punishes anyone who "funds", "sponsors" or "abets" homosexuality.

Museveni suggested his government would concentrate on boosting the economy to create jobs for some young people who he said get lured to homosexuality by "financial inducements".

Local and international rights activities and gay people have criticized the law as draconian and unnecessary, saying it seeks to punish people for their legitimate lifestyle choice.

In his letter, Museveni berated parliament for the way it passed the bill. "Some elements, however, insisted and, even without quorum of parliament, 'passed' it. How can you 'pass' (a) law without the quorum of parliament after it has been pointed out?"

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich)

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