Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has asked legislators to make clear in proposed anti-homosexuality law that it is not criminal to merely identify as gay, as part of an attempt to tone down a bill that has drawn international condemnation.
Last month, legislators in the East African country overwhelmingly passed the proposed legislation, potentially one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ laws, and sent it to the president for approval.
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The planned law criminalises a broad range of homosexual activity including promoting or abetting the lifestyle and imposes stiff penalties including death for so-called aggravated homosexuality.
The law has been widely criticised by human rights defenders, Western governments and corporations.
Thomas Tayebwa, parliament’s deputy speaker, read to legislators a letter Museveni had written to the parliament’s speaker on Tuesday in which he outlined his reasons for returning the bill and what changes he wanted.
In the letter, Museveni said it needed to be clear and distinguish between someone who professes a homosexual lifestyle and someone who actually commits homosexual acts.
“The proposed law should be clear so that what is thought to be criminalised is not the state of one having a deviant proclivity but rather the actions of one acting on that deviancy,” Museveni wrote in the letter.
“The bill should be reviewed and include a provision that clearly states… a person who is believed or alleged or suspected of being a homosexual who has not committed a sexual act with another person of the same sex does not commit an offence.”
He also asked legislators to remove provisions that impose a duty on citizens to report acts of homosexuality because it would create “constitutional challenges” and also be a source of conflict in society.
Museveni advised legislators last week to “look into the issue of rehabilitation” and make changes to the bill. The country’s deputy attorney general has advised that a mandatory death penalty also be removed from the law.
Tayebwa referred the bill back to parliament’s legal affairs committee, which will process and report on it and return it to the full House for more debate and passage.
Once it is passed again by the full House, it will be returned to the president for approval.
Homosexuality is already illegal in the East African country under a colonial-era law criminalising sex acts “against the order of nature”. The punishment for that offence is life imprisonment.