The Obama administration late on Friday criticized the passage of a Ugandan bill earlier in the day that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
Statements against the measure came from both the State Department and the White House National Security Council.
Jonathan Lalley, assistant press secretary for national security at the White House, said the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about the Uganda measure.
“We are deeply concerned by the Ugandan Parliament’s passage of anti-homosexuality legislation,” said Lalley. “As Americans, we believe that people everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality – and that no one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love. We join those in Uganda and around the world who appeal for respect for the human rights of LGBT persons and of all persons.”
Lalley added the U.S. embassy in Kampala has been and remains “in regular contact” with the Ugandan government on this bill and other human rights issues.
Aaron Jensen, spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor, told the Washington Blade the Obama administration opposes measures like Uganda’s so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
“The United States respects the sovereignty of Uganda and the prerogatives of its Parliament to pass legislation,” said Jensen. “Nevertheless, we oppose any legislation that undermines a person’s enjoyment of his or her human rights, and for that reason we condemn legislation that criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between adults or criminalizes simply being of a particular sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Jensen said the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would not only discriminate against LGBT Ugandans but “seriously undermine” efforts to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in the African country.
“We reiterate our long-standing opposition to this bill,” he told the Blade.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill that Parliamentarian David Bahati introduced in 2009 also seeks to ban the “promotion” of same-sex sexual relations. The measure would also require anyone with knowledge of “homosexual activity” to report it to authorities within 24 hours.
Lawmakers removed a provision of the bill that sought to impose the death penalty against anyone convicted of repeated same-sex acts.
President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials have repeatedly spoken out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
Obama made his views about the measure known during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. in 2010. A Christian evangelical group known as “The Family,” which has ties to anti-gay lawmakers in Uganda, hosts the annual event.
“We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as [then-Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda,” said Obama.
The White House and British Prime Minister David Cameron have also suggested a country’s LGBT rights record should factor into the allocation of international aid.
“The U.K. is concerned about the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill approved today by the Ugandan Parliament on the country’s human rights,” said U.K. Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson in a statement. “Whilst recognizing Uganda’s sovereignty, we believe that this bill is incompatible with the defense of minority rights and would increase persecution and discrimination of ordinary people across Uganda. We have and will continue to raise our concerns.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) described the measure’s passage as “a sad day for human rights around the world.”
“While most nations are moving towards compassion, tolerance and non-discrimination, Uganda is unfortunately moving backward,” said the Florida Republican in a statement. “All people deserve to live free of harassment and discrimination and should be able to express themselves without fear of persecution. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect across every country and continent.”
Homosexuality remains criminalized in more than 70 countries with Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and portions of northern Nigeria imposing the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual activity.
The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively in Massachusetts on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, an LGBT advocacy group, that accused the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging Ugandan lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in August ruled SMUG’s lawsuit can move forward.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has yet to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
Chris Johnson contributed to this report.