Ugandan court throws out draconian anti-gay law

Country’s Constitutional Court rules that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was passed illegally. Yet gay sex will remain outlawed. 

Love Uganda, hate homophobia: gay pride float in Cape Town in March shows solidarity with LGBT Ugandans. Photo: Getty
Love Uganda, hate homophobia: gay pride float in Cape Town in March shows solidarity with LGBT Ugandans. Photo: Getty

One of the world's most punitive and bitterly opposed anti-gay laws, Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was signed by President Yoweri Mosevini in February, was annulled by Uganda's Constitutional Court today. The court found that the speaker of parliament had acted illegally in rushing the bill through despite a lack of quorum.

The bill had increased the penalty for same-sex acts (which were already illegal) – including mere sexual touching – from seven years to life imprisonment, criminalised lesbianism for the first time, made "promoting homosexuality" punishable by up to seven years in jail and even made it a criminal offence for any person in authority who failed to report gays or lesbians to the police within 24 hours.  A clause that included the death penalty for some offences was, however, dropped. 

There was worldwide outcry over the bill, and only last month the US had imposed sanctions on Uganda in protest at it. Whether this signals the start of any real equality for LGBT Ugandans remains to be seen – as it seems that homosexuality will continue to be criminalised, just to a less punitive extent. And in a continent in which 38 out of 53 nations still criminalise homosexuality in some way (many of them, including Uganda, using laws that are remnants of European colonialism), there is little for LGBT Africans to celebrate today.