By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com December 12 2009 1:50 PM ET
In its strongest statement yet, the Obama administration condemned a homophobic Ugandan bill that would carry a death sentence for acts of homosexuality in some cases.
“The president strongly opposes efforts, such as the draft law pending in Uganda, that would criminalize homosexuality and move against the tide of history,” read the White House statement that came late Friday in response to an inquiry from The Advocate.
The bill in question would extend the punishment for engaging in gay sex to life imprisonment and introduce the death penalty for those who do so repeatedly or while HIV-positive — acts termed "aggravated homosexuality” within the bill. (There have been reports that the bill is being revised to remove life imprisonment and the death penalty as punishments.)
According to reporting by Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin, the tide may be starting to turn on the bill. A senior adviser to Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni penned an opinion piece Friday in the state-run newspaper that referred to the measure as "draconian" and concluded, "Hunting down people for same-sex love, I believe to be a sin, against Love, one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. (I say all this without being a homosexual.) Parliament should not pass this Bill."
The White House statement came on the heels of a week flooded with conservatives who took strong stands against the legislation. Obama supporter and evangelical pastor Rick Warren called on Ugandan religious leaders to stand against the measure.
"The freedom to make moral choices, and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God. Uganda is a democratic country with a remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up. For these reasons, I urge you, the pastors of Uganda, to speak out against the proposed law," Warren said in a video address.
Republican senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a leading conservative in the Senate, said, “Over the past two decades, political, religious, and community leaders in Uganda have united to promote a rare, winning strategy against HIV that addresses the unique and common risks of every segment of society. Sadly, some who oppose Uganda’s common-sense ABC strategy are using an absurd proposal to execute gays to undermine this coalition and winning strategy. Officials in Uganda should come to their senses and take whatever steps are necessary to withdraw this proposal that will do nothing but harm a winning strategy that is saving lives.”
Though the White House had been silent on the Uganda issue until Friday, the State Department sent warning signals last week. On the eve of World AIDS Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide." But Clinton stopped short of specifically referring to the Uganda measure.
Later that week the State Department reportedly issued "guidance" on the bill that read, “We are disturbed by violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and prejudice that are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity. We condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity wherever they occur. We urge states to take all the necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties — in particular, execution arrest or detention. If adopted a bill further criminalizing homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda.”