KAMPALA, Uganda — The Ugandan parliamentarian behind an anti-gay bill that attracted worldwide condemnation said the most controversial part of the legislation – the death penalty provision – is likely to be dropped from the bill.
David Bahati said if the parliament committee the bill currently sits before recommends that the death penalty provision be removed, “I would concede.”
“The death penalty is something we have moved away from,” Bahati told The Associated Press in an interview.
After Bahati’s anti-gay bill was proposed some 18 months ago, it attracted international condemnation, including from President Barack Obama. Since the initial uproar, the bill has languished in committee.
But Stephen Tashobya, the chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, said the legislation may come up for a vote before parliament’s session ends May 12.
“We shall try and see how far we can go with the bill. It may be possible. We are doing all we can. We have limited time,” he said Tuesday, before adding: “Many people have expressed concern about that provision providing for the death sentence and I’m sure when we start hearings on that bill we will hear many more concerns.”
Homosexuality is highly unpopular in Uganda, and pastors in this Christian country speak out loudly against the practice. Bahati said he thinks the bill would become law if voted on by legislators.
“I can guarantee you I have not seen any member of parliament who is opposed to it,” he said.
Frank Mugisha, the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights group, said anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has increased since the bill’s introduction. More gays are being harassed, he said, because of media attention and because church leaders have been preaching for the bill’s passage to congregations.
Bahati’s original bill carried harsh provisions. The original bill would mandate a death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. “Serial offenders” also could face capital punishment, but the legislation did not define the term. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment.
Anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” would face seven years in prison. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals also could get seven years.
“If the bill passes we cannot even be allowed to do our work,” Mugisha said.
Last year a tabloid newspaper in Uganda published the names and photos of men it alleged were gay. One cover included the words “Hang Them.” Shortly afterward, in January, a prominent gay rights activist whose picture was published was bludgeoned to death, though authorities contend David Kato’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with the killing.
Mugisha said the murder was not thoroughly investigated. “I think it had to do with all the hate that has been spread. All avenues lead to a homophobia-based crime,” he said.
Bahati called Kato’s death regrettable.
“My reaction is that I extend condolences to the family, parents of Kato. It’s regrettable that they could find themselves in this situation, and also regrettable that he could be allowed to be used to recruit our children. But the death of Kato had nothing to do with the bill in parliament,” he said.
Bahati, 36, is serving his first term. He said that the bill has helped raise public awareness about what he calls “the dangers to our children.” Many Ugandan leaders who support the bill say that gay Ugandans recruit school children to become homosexual.
Mugisha says no one has ever been arrested for doing such a thing despite Uganda being what he called a highly homophobic country.
Bahati submitted his bill in late 2009, several months after American evangelicals attended a conference in Kampala. Those U.S. religious leaders consider same-gender relationships sinful and believe gays and lesbians can become heterosexual through prayer and counseling, fueling speculation that the Americans helped craft the bill.
Bahati said that was false and he labeled it a communication strategy and “conspiracy” by pro-gay groups in the U.S. to make his bill easier to attack.
“I didn’t meet any American evangelicals. I’ve said before we have friends in America but they have nothing to do with the bill. This actually has been an insult to suggest that Ugandans cannot think for themselves, that we have to wait for America to think for us,” he said.