Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni supports a bill containing some of earth’s harshest anti-LGBTQ legislation but will send it back to parliament for “strengthening”, the ruling party’s chief whip said.
A group of lawmakers from Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) discussed the bill with the president and agreed in principle to make it law, chief whip Denis Hamson Obua said.
“Before that is done we also agree that the bill will be returned in order to facilitate the reinforcement and the strengthening of some provisions in line with our best practices,” he told a news conference after the meeting.
The whip did not elaborate on what parts of the bill required reinforcing. Another NRM lawmaker, Kwizera Eddie Wagahungu, said before the meeting that Museveni could ask for changes to provisions that contradict existing law and thus avoid a successful court challenge.
According to Obua, Museveni was to hold a meeting on Tuesday with parliament’s legal and parliamentary affairs committee to draft the amendments.
The United States, United Nations, European Union and a long list of corporate giants have condemned the bill, which would impose the death penalty for so-called aggravated homosexuality and 20-year sentences for “promoting” homosexuality.
Among the offences defined as aggravated homosexuality is having gay sex when HIV-positive.
The bill’s passage in March with near unanimous support in parliament has already triggered a wave of arrests, evictions and mob attacks against LGBTQ Ugandans, members of the community say.
Museveni is a strong opponent of LGBTQ rights. Last month, he called gay people “deviations from normal”.
He signed a law in 2014 that strengthened penalties for same-sex relations but has also suggested at times that homosexuality should be addressed through treatment rather than legislation.
He faced a possible juggling act trying to keep lawmakers happy over legislation that has broad popular support while not antagonising foreign donors who provide billions of dollars in aid each year.
Western governments suspended aid, imposed visa restrictions and curtailed security cooperation in response to the law Museveni signed in 2014. The measure was nullified within months by a domestic court on procedural grounds.
In Uganda, same-sex relations are already illegal as they are in more than 30 African countries, but proponents of the new bill said stronger legislation was needed to combat the threat homosexuality presents to traditional family values.
Lawmakers in neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania have recently called for similar measures in their countries.
A coalition of international companies, including Google (GOOGL.O), criticised the legislation last month, warning it would put those with operations in Uganda in an impossible position and hurt the country’s economy.