A controversial new law on homosexuality is currently under debate in the Ugandan parliament.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda and the new laws propose much harsher punishments. These include a minimum sentence of life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of committing a homosexual act. For those found to be HIV positive or ‘serial offenders’, the death sentence can be imposed.
This legislation builds on a culture of homophobia and will serve to increase underlying prejudices by giving homophobes a legal basis for their viewpoints.
The law directly contravenes the UN Declaration on Human Rights as it impinges on citizens’ rights to privacy by asking people to report homosexual acts. The failure to do so could result in a sentence of up to three years.
Many global organisations, such as Amnesty International, are calling for the legislation to be blocked. Stephen Lewis, a prominent Canadian politician, criticised the legislation saying it had ‘a taste of fascism about it’.
Several countries have reacted to the proposals by threatening to cut aid to Uganda. The Government was defiant in the face of this intercriticism, saying that the legal process would continue uninterrupted.
These laws may seem extreme from a European perspective. However, the criminalisation of homosexuality in Africa is common, with as many as 38 countries having laws against homosexuality.
Links have been made to a US evangelical plot to change values in regions where homosexuality is accepted. Evangelicals are calling for a return to the early 19th century consensus where homosexuality was seen as a form of mental illness and treatment included the use of aversion therapy.
Some countries in Africa are more liberal in their attitudes towards homosexuality. South Africa is an example of this. It legalised same sex marriages in 2006. Several rulings from the Constitutional Court of South Africa have helped set a precedent in which homosexuality is slowly becoming an accepted part of South African culture.
Post-apartheid South Africa is a positive example to the remainder of the continent, proving how homosexuality can become an important part of society. Despite levels of equality falling short of Western expectations, South Africa has made huge strides relative to some of its African counterparts who seem to be moving in the opposite direction.