After more than a decade of anti-LGBTQ lobbying from American evangelical groups, Uganda has finally enacted what’s among the harshest anti-gay laws in the world. On Monday, Yoweri Museveni, the president of the East African nation, signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023, a bill that makes homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment and “aggravated homosexuality”—a vague phrase that applies to both predators and those who use “misrepresentation” or “undue influence” to engage in gay sex—punishable by death. Even attempting “to commit the offense of homosexuality” could lead to a seven-year prison sentence. Moreover, anyone found guilty of “promoting” homosexuality in the country could face up to 20 years in prison, while so-called “serial offenders” and those who transmit HIV/AIDS through gay sex could be subject to capital punishment.
The law has faced widespread condemnation abroad. In a Monday statement, Joe Biden condemned it as “a tragic violation” of human rights and said the White House was “considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.” (For his part, Museveni previously praised Uganda’s parliament members for defying “imperialist” pressure campaigns against the law, which is also being challenged in court by in-country activists.)
Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has climbed in recent years due in no small part to American evangelicals, who spent more than $20 million fighting LGBTQ rights in the country between 2007–2020, according to The Washington Post. Scott Lively, an American pastor, spearheaded this effort in the early 2000s, participating in a series of popular anti-gay lectures in Uganda and describing homosexuality as a “disease” propagated by the West. Several years later, Uganda’s parliament proposed initial legislation, known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, that was supported by a number of American Christian groups and eventually signed into law. While that measure ultimately buckled under court scrutiny, its draconian vision has now been revived and etched into law by Museveni’s pen.
In a strange twist, one of the leading evangelical politicians in the US has joined the White House, the UN Human Rights Office, and a corporate coalition in condemning the law. “This Uganda law is horrific & wrong,” tweeted Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican. “Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse. #LGBTQ.” In his own country, Cruz has consistently advocated against the civil rights of gay Americans. As recently as last year, he called Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, “clearly wrong” and an act of judicial overreach. (Those remarks were mild compared to his initial reaction to the 2015 decision, which he described at the time as “the very definition of tyranny” and “among the darkest hours of our nation.”)
Anita Among, Uganda’s parliamentary speaker, responded to criticisms of the law by stating that Museveni had “answered the cries of our people.” In a separate statement, Among urged the “duty bearers under the law to execute the mandate bestowed upon them in the Anti-Homosexuality Act.”