Uganda’s Constitutional Court Has Upheld the Country’s “Kill the Gays” Law

The Constitutional Court of Uganda declined to overturn the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act on Wednesday, striking some passages that required citizens to report LGBTQ+ people to the police but leaving the legislation mostly intact.

“We decline to nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act [of] 2023 in its entirety, neither will we grant a permanent injunction against its enforcement,” ruled Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, according to Al Jazeera, in response to a petition to annul the law. Instead, the court moved to strike only passages that were “inconsistent with right to health, privacy and freedom of religion.” That includes language that criminalized a person’s failure to report LGBTQ+ activity or allowing others to use a space for “homosexual acts,” Reuters reported. The petition was brought by legislators, human rights activists, and two law professors from Makerere University in Kampala, per Al Jazeera.

Uganda’s Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act last May, nicknamed “Kill the Gays” by LGBTQ+ advocates because of its provisions establishing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” (for example, having consensual sex with a disabled partner). Wednesday’s decision by the Constitutional Court left that language intact, as well as passages criminalizing “promotion of homosexuality” and participation in same-sex weddings.

According to a February report by the Ugandan nonprofit organization Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), at least 68 people have been arrested on sexuality-based offenses and 286 have been evicted from their homes since June 2023.

“This decision unfortunately will fuel human rights violations against LGBT+ persons in Uganda,” the group wrote in a brief statement on social media.

Prior to the law’s passage, homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial penal code that made acts “against the order of nature” punishable by life in prison. Although Ugandan officials have insisted that laws like the Anti-Homosexuality Act are necessary to resist Western cultural influences, such laws are widespread in former British colonies across Africa and Asia, tracing their roots to laws established by colonial governors hundreds of years ago. In the past few decades, U.S.-based evangelical groups including Family Watch International have campaigned heavily in favor of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Africa, including Uganda and Ghana, where legislators passed a similarly draconian act in February.

Wednesday’s ruling comes on the heels of another legal defeat for LGBTQ+ advocates in March, when an appeals court upheld a previous decision that forcibly shuttered Uganda’s leading LGBTQ+ activist group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). The group has since continued operations despite the ruling, celebrating its 20th anniversary last month, per the Ugandan LGBTQ+ news publication Kuchu Times. Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, a member of Parliament who petitioned the Constitutional Court to overturn the Anti-Homosexuality Act, condemned the ruling against SMUG last month in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“Discrimination can never be justified. Do not relent,” Odoi-Oywelowo wrote in a message to SMUG executive director Dr. Frank Mugisha. “LGBTQ persons are human beings who are entitled to equal protection of the law.”

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