KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's anti-gay bill will be passed before the end of 2012 despite international criticism of the draft legislation, the speaker of the country's parliament said Monday, insisting it is what most Ugandans want.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga told The Associated Press that the bill, which originally mandated death for some gay acts, will become law this year.
Ugandans "are demanding it," she said, reiterating a promise she made before a meeting on Friday of anti-gay activists who spoke of "the serious threat" posed by homosexuals to Uganda's children. Some Christian clerics at the meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, asked the speaker to pass the law as "a Christmas gift."
"Speaker, we cannot sit back while such (a) destructive phenomenon is taking place in our nation," the activists said in a petition. "We therefore, as responsible citizens, feel duty-bound to bring this matter to your attention as the leader of Parliament ... so that lawmakers can do something to quickly address the deteriorating situation in our nation."
The anti-gay activists paraded in front of Kadaga, with parents and schoolchildren holding up signs saying homosexuality is "an abomination." The speaker then promised to consider the bill within two weeks, declaring that "the power is in our hands."
"Who are we not to do what they have told us? These people should not be begging us," Kadaga said of activists who want the bill to become law.
Uganda's penal code criminalizes homosexuality, but in 2009 a lawmaker with the ruling party said a stronger law was needed to protect Uganda's children from homosexuals. Parliamentarian David Bahati charged at the time that wealthy homosexuals from the West were "recruiting" poor children into gay lifestyles with promises of money and a better life. Bahati believes his bill is sufficiently popular among lawmakers to pass without difficulty.
Gay rights activists in Uganda, while opposing the bill, point out that it has helped their fight for equality by putting what used to be a taboo subject on the national agenda. Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries.
Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent Ugandan gay activist, said the new push to pass the law was frustrating.
"It's disappointing, but we are also going to seek a meeting with the speaker," Onziema said. But it is unlikely the speaker will agree to such a gathering, he said.
While the bill appears to be popular in Uganda, it has attracted widespread criticism abroad. President Barack Obama has described it as "odious," while some European countries have threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the bill becomes law.