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Obama Condemns Anti-Gay Bill in Uganda

Anti-gay demonstration in Uganda

Anti-gay demonstration in Uganda

U.S. President Barack Obama has sharply criticized an anti-gay bill in Uganda that would impose the death penalty in some cases. Other western governments and gay rights activists also have criticized the legislation. Supporters accuse the U.S. and other western nations of interfering in Uganda's internal affairs. VOA's Robert Raffaele has more.

The Ugandan measure calls for the death penalty or life imprisonment for HIV-positive homosexuals who have sex with minors.

Earlier this week, at the U.S. Congress, some 200 lawmakers introduced a resolution condemning the bill.

U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the Ugandan measure while speaking at a prayer breakfast Thursday in Washington. "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, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed, most recently in Uganda," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she recently called Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, expressing the "strongest concerns" about the proposal.

Mr. Museveni is now calling the bill a 'foreign policy' issue. He's urged lawmakers to craft a measure that, in his words, 'does not compromise our principles' and takes into account Uganda's foreign policy interests. "The Prime Minister of Canada came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays. Prime Minister Gordon Brown came to see me and what was he talking about? Gays," he said.

The bill's author, Ugandan politician David Bahati, has this response to nations threatening to withhold aid if his measure passes. "We would rather stay with our values and you stay with your money," he said.

Gay rights activists in Uganda say the measure has intensified anti-gay prejudice. Pepe Julia Onzeima says she has been harassed frequently. "I have been picked up off the street, detained for sometime, ridiculed, intimidated, some money taken away from my wallet, and then I am.. .you know, they release me, they tell me 'go,' " she said.

Anti-gay measures have emerged in some east African countries in recent months. Kenya and Tanzania already have anti-gay laws that gay rights activists fear could be expanded.