Ugandan Court Overturns Anti-Homosexuality Act, But It Might Not Last [UPDATED]

The law punishing any act of homosexuality with prison time was ruled unconstitutional.
Aug 4, 2014·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Uganda’s constitutional court has overruled the Anti-Homosexuality Act, stating that the law, which punishes any act of homosexuality—from holding hands with someone of the same gender to gay marriage—with life in prison, is unconstitutional.

The law, which was signed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in February, institutionalized discrimination, but it was not thrown out in court in response to the global outcry over human rights violations. Instead, five Ugandan judges spotted a technicality: Not enough members of the country’s parliament were present to pass the legislation, so it never should have made it to Museveni’s desk, according to The New York Times.

Though the act was ruled unconstitutional, the judges shied away from supporting gay rights. Uganda is a devoutly Christian country; the president has told CNN that homosexuality is “disgusting.” Given that the technicality was the main cause for the ruling, the act could easily be revived and taken up by the parliament again.

Homosexuality is illegal in 37 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International.

Gay rights advocates, including Western supporters, are pleased with the court’s decision. After the law was first passed earlier this year, the U.S. threatened to withhold aid and redirected funds to nongovernmental organizations. The U.S. is one of Uganda’s biggest supporters, supplying roughly $450 million in aid annually, according to the L.A. Times. Museveni claims Uganda does not need outside assistance.

Western gay rights activists have accused American evangelicals of promoting bigotry in African countries. This antigay movement gained momentum in Uganda in 2009 when American evangelicals pushed legislation to make homosexual acts punishable by death.

Christian missionaries have a long history of fusing religious doctrine with the aid they bring to African countries, which in Uganda’s case has meant a gospel that incites hate and violence. Academy Award–winning documentarian Roger Ross Williams talked to TakePart Live on July 24 about his film God Love Uganda and the country’s antigay agenda.

“There is a church on every corner. I interviewed many members of Parliament who are all devoutly evangelical. They said they rule first by the Bible and then by government,” Williams said.

Since the legislation was proposed, homosexuals in Uganda have seen an increase in violence, including mob riots and suicide attempts, the Times reports. In early 2011, Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was beaten to death with a hammer.

While this may be a small step in the right direction for gay rights in Uganda, homophobia remains rampant in much of Africa.

UPDATED [Nov. 6, 2014]: Uganda's parliament reportedly planned to return to session in early November to pass the law again, with a quorum in place.