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Nearly 90 Congress members have signed on to a letter that will be delivered to President Barack Obama Wednesday urging him to publicly oppose a bill in Uganda that would impose the death penalty for certain acts of homosexuality.
"We consider this to be an international human rights issue, requiring a strong response by you and the United States," begins the letter, an effort that was spearheaded by out represenatives Jared Polis, Tammy Baldwin, and Barney Frank.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but the new legislation 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.
The letter applauds previous statements from both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the White House condemning the pending legislation but asks President Obama to go further.
"Specifically, we ask that you speak out publicly against this proposed legislation to bring further attention to the issue. Also, given your popularity in Africa, speaking out publicly against Uganda and Rwanda's proposed anti-homosexual legislation is likely to garner more concern and attention from not only African nations but internationally. We further ask that you give diplomatic weight to your call for homosexuality to be decriminalized worldwide. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties prohibit discrimination and specify that all enjoy the right to privacy, over 80 countries currently have in place sodomy laws or other legal provisions that criminalize the LGBT community. We believe that standing up for the rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, reflects the fundamental precepts of our country."
The letter goes on to ask President Obama to disclose the efforts his administration has taken since last March to help move other countries toward fully protecting the rights of their LGBT citizens.
Full text of the letter can be read after the jump.
January 19, 2010
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to raise serious concerns about a grave injustice occurring in Uganda and other countries that are taking steps to criminalize or otherwise severely discriminate against their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. We consider this to be an international human rights issue, requiring a strong response by you and the United States.
As you are aware, Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati recently introduced draconian legislation in Uganda outlawing homosexuality and making "any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex" punishable by prison or even death. Late last month, the Rwandan Parliament debated but then halted plans to pass a draft revision of their penal code that would have, for the first time, made homosexuality a crime in Rwanda. Burundi has recently added a criminal provision, again in a country where consensual conduct was not previously criminalized. These global anti-equality efforts are not in keeping with international human rights precepts, nor are they consistent with your March 2009 endorsement of calls at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide. For these reasons, Mr. President, we ask you to demonstrate your personal leadership, and that of our country, in seeking to deter these legislative proposals that would legalize hate in countries with which we have bilateral partnerships.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 is by far the most extreme and hateful attempt by an African country to criminalize the LGBT community. It would increase the penalty for "same sex sexual acts" to life in prison, limit the distribution of information on HIV through a provision criminalizing the "promotion of homosexuality," and establish the crime of "aggravated homosexuality" punishable by death for anyone in Uganda who is HIV positive and has consensual same-sex relations. Further, the bill includes a provision that could lead to the imprisonment for up to three years of anyone who fails to report within 24 hours the identities of everyone they know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or who supports human rights for people who are, to the government.
This reprehensible bill is not only unjust on its face: Its mere existence could provoke or legitimize violence against individuals who either are LGBT or are rumored to be LGBT, their families, and community leaders in their places of worship, residence, school, or place of business. The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 even establishes extra-territorial jurisdiction which consequently endangers known LGBT citizens living abroad who may be extradited and prosecuted in Uganda.
Mr. President, we applaud Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent statement of concern about Uganda's pending legislation. We concur with her fear that the bill would create fear, promote hatred, and potentially divide communities. We take at face value her statement that the U.S. has urged Uganda to take all necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, harassment, or discrimination. We also applaud the recent White House statement indicating your opposition to the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda.
However, we strongly believe that the severity of the legislation under consideration in both Uganda and Rwanda requires that you do more. Sweden has indicated that it will cut bilateral assistance to Uganda should the bill be passed. Canada and the United Kingdom also have condemned the bill, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown took up the matter directly with Ugandan President Museveni at the recent Commonwealth Summit. We ask that you use all means available to seek to deter these bills from passage, and that a tangible and meaningful bilateral response be undertaken should either bill be passed into law.
Specifically, we ask that you speak out publicly against this proposed legislation to bring further attention to the issue. Also, given your popularity in Africa, speaking out publicly against Uganda and Rwanda's proposed anti-homosexual legislation is likely to garner more concern and attention from not only African nations but internationally. We further ask that you give diplomatic weight to your call for homosexuality to be decriminalized worldwide. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties prohibit discrimination and specify that all enjoy the right to privacy, over 80 countries currently have in place sodomy laws or other legal provisions that criminalize the LGBT community. We believe that standing up for the rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, reflects the fundamental precepts of our country. We would be pleased to learn what efforts you and your Administration have undertaken since March 2009 to help move other countries toward fully protecting the rights of all their citizens.
We are reaching out to you not only as our President, but as a close ally in the struggle to fight for the human rights of vulnerable minorities. Like you, we believe that human rights violations of any kind should not be tolerated, and the threatened persecution of the LGBT community in Uganda and around the world is unacceptable. As an international leader, the United States has an opportunity to prevent proliferation of hate, civil unrest and violence in Uganda, Rwanda, and other countries considering these devastating policies. We respectfully ask for your immediate and consequential help in addressing these grave dangers.
Signatories to date are listed after the jump.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Fortney Pete Stark
James P. McGovern
Mary Jo Kilroy
Michael M. Honda
Sheila Jackson Lee
Steven R. Rothman