Yesterday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed Uganda’s controversial anti-homosexual bill into law. The bill further criminalizes homosexual behavior, which was already illegal in Uganda. First-time offenders can be imprisoned for up to fourteen years and there are even harsher measures for “aggravated” homosexuality—an instance where an HIV-infected person commits homosexual acts. At first the bill included the death penalty for the most intractable offenders, but that provision was removed from the bill after an international outcry.
Of course, international criticism of the bill as it is currently formulated has still been vociferous. Representatives for the White House and the UN have already come out against it. Secretary of State John Kerry leveled a thinly veiled threat against Uganda after the bill passed:
Now that this law has been enacted, we are beginning an internal review of our relationship with the government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values.
In other words, passing the anti-homosexual bill has cooled U.S.-Ugandan relations, and could possibly result in a decrease of humanitarian funding. Because the United States is totally against discrimination. Unless they are discriminating against values they don’t agree with. Which is fine for us to do. But not Uganda. Obviously.
The history of the anti-homosexual bill is of interest. It was passed by the Ugandan legislature in December of 2013 and Museveni took his time to sign it, asking a panel of medical experts for further information on the nature of homosexual behavior. Apparently, Museveni’s support of the bill was contingent on one fact: is homosexuality a matter of nature or nurture?
According to Museveni, if homosexuality is a matter of nature—meaning homosexuals do not have a choice about their behavior—it would be wrong to support a bill criminalizing “the way they were.” But if homosexuality is a matter of nurture, and homosexuals can actually deny their “abnormal” impulses, Museveni said he would sign the bill.
Well, the medical panel came back definitively in favor of calling homosexuality a social behavior which was not rooted in genetics or biology. So Museveni signed the bill. It was a gutsy move, and he will probably pay for it in the short-term with a loss of international support.
But if that means his country can move forward as a more sovereign nation and possibly curb the continued spread of HIV/AIDS within their borders, I think that Museveni’s controversial decision will be vindicated.