Uganda's parliament abruptly passed the long-languishing Anti-Homosexuality Bill Friday, though the prime minister said that not enough members of parliament were present to establish a formal quorum and validate the vote, reports the BBC.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first introduced by MP David Bahati in 2009, and at that time prescribed the death penalty for certain instances of "aggravated homosexuality," including if one person was HIV-positive or if the liaison involved a minor. The BBC reports that the capital punishment provision has been replaced with one calling for life imprisonment for such instances, while maintaining an earlier stipulation that imposes jail sentences for anyone who does not report a "known homosexual" to police.
"Breaking news: I am officially illegal," Ugandan LGBTI activist and executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, Frank Mugisha, tweeted early Friday morning.
Bahati, the bill's original sponsor and one of its most ardent supporters, told Agence France-Presse that Friday's vote was "A victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament voted against evil."
The bill was passed without any public notice, prompting international rights organizations to question its legal legitimacy.
“Representatives of the Ugandan government have launched a shameful sneak attack on their own people," said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a statement Friday. "If this bill becomes law, countless LGBT Ugandans will be condemned to violence or prison. The United States government has a moral obligation to use every tool at its disposal to put a stop to this legislation."
The bill now goes to President Yoweri Museveni's desk for a signature, which he could grant "as early as tomorrow," according to Gay Star News. However, the HRC reports that Museveni has previously stated that he does not support the bill.
Homosexuality was already illegal in the East African nation, but the new bill criminalizes LGBT identities even further, outlawing the "public promotion of homosexuality," including discussion by LGBT rights groups, according to AFP.
Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga promised to pass the legislation last year as a "Christmas gift" to Ugandans, a pledge which she appears to have made good on one year later.
After the bill was introduced in 2009, international outcry effectively scuttled the bill until this week. President Obama called the legislation "odious," and some international allies have threatened to rescind aid to Uganda if it passed the law. But even without the law's passage, LGBT Ugandans have been arrested without cause, harassed, and beaten in the staunchly conservative nation.