Skip to main content

Gays and lesbians 'sick,' Ugandan President says in blocking anti-gay bill

updated 11:18 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President's spokesman: "There was no quorum, and homosexuals are sick people"
  • Lawmakers downgraded punishment for "aggravated homosexuality" to life in prison
  • Law also proposed prison time for those who counsel, reach out to gays and lesbians
  • Parliament reconvenes next month, and the bill could pass without President's signature

(CNN) -- Uganda's President has declined to sign a bill that would punish certain homosexual acts with life in prison, but the move was not designed to protect the civil rights of gays and lesbians.

President Yoweri Museveni believes that parliament illegally passed the bill, and gays and lesbians are "sick people who need help," his spokesman said.

A Ugandan lawmaker first introduced the bill in 2009 with a death penalty clause for some homosexual acts. It was briefly shelved when Britain and other European nations threatened to withdraw aid to Uganda, which relies on millions of dollars from the international community.

The nation's parliament passed the bill last month, supplanting the death penalty provision with a proposal of life in prison for "aggravated homosexuality." It was awaiting the President's signature for passage.

Ugandan LGBT community: We're still here
Uganda's rising anti-gay climate
Gay and afraid in Uganda

News came Friday that the President had sent a letter to the speaker of the parliament, saying he can't sign the bill because there weren't enough parliament members present when it was passed.

"There was no quorum which (was) mandated for bill passage. Thus, he is unable to sign a bill that was not legally passed," spokesman Tamale Mirundi said.

The spokesman further explained Museveni's thinking about the issue.

"Homosexuals need help. They are sick," Mirundi said. "Homosexuals were present in Africa in the past and were not persecuted."

The President also believes that the issue is not a priority for his country.

"It might be important in Europe, but not here," Mirundi said. "The President's inability to sign the bill is very clear and his stance has not changed. ... There was no quorum, and homosexuals are sick people who need help."

According to Amnesty International, the bill's definition of "aggravated homosexuality" includes acts in which a person is infected with HIV, "serial offenders" and sex with minors.

The bill also proposed years in prison for anyone who counsels or reaches out to gays and lesbians, a provision that would ensnare rights groups and others providing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries, where sodomy laws were introduced during colonialism. In Uganda, homosexual acts are punishable by 14 years to life in prison, according to rights activists.

But lawmakers in the conservative nation sought tougher legislation, saying the influence of Western lifestyles risks destroying family units.

"This is a piece of legislation that is needed in this country to protect the traditional family here in Africa, and also protect the future of our children," said David Bahati, the lawmaker who introduced the bill.

Rights groups and the international community had urged Museveni to veto the bill.

Parliament is in recess and won't reconvene until February 18, parliament spokesman Moses Bwalatum said. The bill can become law without the President's signature if Museveni returns it to parliament twice and it garners the support of two-thirds of lawmakers, he said.

Journalist Samson Ntale and Gregory Branch contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:45 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
updated 7:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
updated 5:26 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
updated 5:54 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
updated 9:31 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT