Church leaders, human rights activists, and healthcare workers in Uganda have delivered a petition, demanding the withdrawal of an anti-homosexuality bill in parliament. Critics say the bill's passage could set a precedent for other African countries, which have criminalized homosexuality and homosexual behavior in recent years.
An Anglican priest and an activist for HIV/AIDS patient rights delivered the petition to Uganda's parliament speaker Monday on behalf of ordinary citizens and 500,000 people around the world, who signed the petition in support.
The priest, Canon Gideon Byamugisha, says the speaker assured him that their demand to have the anti-gay bill withdrawn from parliament would be given serious consideration.
An anti-gay demonstration in Uganda
"I am very, very satisfied because he said he was going to forward the view to the parliamentary committee that is handling the appeal," he said. "And he said that our view is going to be part of information they have to debate on the bill. We want the parliamentarians to know that not all Ugandans are supporting the bill."
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, a crime punishable by as long as 14 years in prison. But Uganda's parliamentary committee is now reviewing a bill that contains provisions for the death penalty for some homosexual acts, fines and jail terms for some citizens who do not report homosexual activity, and 7-year prison terms for anyone who aids or abets homosexual activities, including HIV/AIDS service workers.
The United States, Britain, and the European Union have condemned the bill. A global public campaign network called Avaaz, which sponsored the petition, says copies of the petition have been sent to Uganda's western allies in the hope that they can use diplomatic pressure to kill the proposed legislation.
The campaign director for Avaaz, Alice Jay, says her organization became involved in the petition drive after receiving numerous requests from concerned Ugandans.
"The strongest critics of this came from within Uganda and one of them said very clearly, 'There is homophobia in Uganda like in most of the world. But we do not want our laws to be based on it.' We started looking into it and we polled our members across the world and we got a 90 percent in favor for us to launch a campaign and 89 percent in Africa, saying that there was interest and concern about this bill and that we should take action," she said.
Jay says one of the organization's biggest worries is that if the anti-gay bill becomes law in Uganda, it could prompt some other African countries to introduce similar legislation.
Homosexuality is illegal in more than 30 African countries, and international human rights activists say gays, lesbians, and bisexual people are under increasing attack in many parts of the continent, often on religious grounds.