KAMPALA, Uganda – A Ugandan lawmaker on Friday refused to withdraw proposed legislation that would impose the death penalty for some gays and lesbians despite international condemnation and presidential opposition to a measure that could scare off foreign investors.
Lawmaker David Bahati said he will not heed a call late Thursday from the government to drop the proposed bill, as he feels such a measure is necessary in the conservative East African country.
On Thursday, Minister of State for Investment Aston Kajara said the government would ask Bahati to scrap the bill because they fear backlash from foreign investors. The bill, which Bahati proposed in September, has provoked criticism from gay-rights groups and protests in London, New York and Washington.
"I stand by the bill," Bahati said. "I will not withdraw it. We have our children in schools to protect against being recruited into (homosexuality). The process of legislating a law to protect our children against homosexuality and defending our family values must go on."
That leaves the decision to the country's parliament, which will discuss the legislation in late February or early March.
Although President Yoweri Museveni has told colleagues he believes the bill is too harsh and has encouraged his ruling National Resistance Movement Party to overturn the death sentence provision, Information Minister Kabakumba Matsiko said the parliament will act independently of the presidency.
"The bill did not come from the executive," she said. "It is a private members bill."
Earlier this week, several lawmakers and officials from the ruling party said they will push to remove the death penalty statute, and have proposed instead that gays receive counseling to convert them to heterosexuality.
The proposed legislation would toughen Uganda's already strict laws against homosexuality, which are bolstered by Uganda's conservative society, which generally frowns on homosexuality.
Lawmakers outlawed gay marriage in 2005. The proposed legislation is being touted as an update to Uganda's old statutes against homosexuality, which date from the 1950s and do not address homosexuality by name, only what the law terms as "unnatural offenses" and "gross indecency."
The draft of the new bill says anyone convicted of a homosexual act — which includes touching someone of the same sex with the intent of committing a homosexual act — could face life imprisonment. Current legislation imposes seven years' imprisonment. Under the new law, the death sentence could apply to sexually active gays living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. The new law also expands its scope to include Ugandans living abroad, who can be extradited and punished.
Kajara said government officials worried the bill would scare off investors.
"Ever since the bill was tabled, there have been a lot of outcries not only here but from all over the world," he 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 measure was proposed in Uganda following a visit by leaders of U.S. conservative Christian ministries that promote therapy for gays to become heterosexual. However, at least one of those leaders has denounced the bill, as have some other conservative and liberal Christians in the United States.
On the African continent, South Africa is the only country that allows gay marriage. However, some South African groups have rejected homosexuality as "un-African" and gangs carry out so-called "corrective" rapes on lesbians. A 19-year-old lesbian athlete was gang-raped, tortured and murdered in 2008.
The Catholic church in Uganda has said it supports the bill but not the death penalty provision. But a group of non-traditional churches has accused Museveni of siding with gays and maintains that the Bible supports killing gays. Anglican Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who is one of the global fellowship's most senior priests, has said he condemns the proposed law in his native country.