Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and his wife look at pictures of Holocaust victims on April 29, 2012, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Mbabazi says he was surprised by the Friday vote in Uganda's parliament to impose still penalties for homosexual acts.

Vote on Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Law Surprises Country's Prime Minister

The long-tabled legislation will punish gay sex with 14 years in prison if Uganda's president signs it.

Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and his wife look at pictures of Holocaust victims on April 29, 2012, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Mbabazi says he was surprised by the Friday vote in Uganda's parliament to impose still penalties for homosexual acts.
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Uganda's parliament approved Friday a proposed law against homosexuality that's horrified western politicians and activists since it was first introduced in 2009. The country's prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, was caught off-guard by the vote.

The legislation makes homosexual acts punishable by 14 years in prison. In cases of "aggravated homosexuality," it authorizes life in prison.

"I was not aware that this Bill was coming up for debate," Mbabazi said, according to a post on the website of Uganda's parliament. "There are some issues on which we are still consulting."

Nonetheless, Mbabazi said, "This is an important Bill that we need to pass with a quorum in Parliament."

The final vote count is unclear, but there was some opposition in the 375-member body.

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"What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom should not be the business of this Parliament," lawmakers Sam Otada and Fox Odoi said in a statement. "It is not right to have the state allowed in the bedrooms of people."

Longtime Uganda President Yoweri Museveni must approve the bill for it to become law.

Originally, the bill would have authorized death sentences for aggravated homosexuality, which means having sex while HIV-positive, being a repeat offender or having sex with someone under age 18.

The bill was long dreaded by gay rights supporters and appeared poised to pass at various points. In November 2012, the speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, infamously told The Associated Press: "Ugandans want that law as a Christmas gift. They have asked for it and we'll give them that gift."

Anti-gay lawmakers were predictably pleased Friday with their success.

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"I am glad the parliament has voted against evil," bill sponsor David Bahati told Agence France-Presse. "[W]e are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks."

The law is the latest in a series of freedom-limiting measures handed down by the Ugandan parliament, Reuters reports. Earlier this week, legislators voted to ban pornography and miniskirts, and in August the parliament passed a new law requiring activists to notify police before protests.

Activists held Uganda's first gay pride parade in the city of Entebbe in 2012.

"We in the gay community are in a panic," Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told Reuters. "People are afraid of walking in the streets, because they know how Ugandans like to take the law into their own hands."

It's almost certain the bill will provoke calls to eliminate American aid to Uganda. The State Department says the U.S. is Uganda's largest bilateral donor, financing everything from medicine to long-term development projects.

It's also possible western visitors will be ensnared by the law. Currently, gay British citizen Bernard Randall, 65, is on trial because his stolen laptop contained images of gay sex. The computer was given by thieves to an anti-gay religious leader, who handed it to police.

 

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