WASHINGTON (CN) — The White House is warning that a proposed Ugandan bill that would outlaw identifying as LGBTQ+ could threaten U.S. aid to the African country.
John Kirby, coordinator of strategic communications for the National Security Council, said Wednesday that if the law passes, the Biden administration would consider potential “repercussions … perhaps in an economic way.”
“That would be really unfortunate because so much of the economic assistance we provide Uganda is health assistance,” Kirby said at a press briefing. “Hopefully it won’t pass and we won’t have to do anything.”
The United States provides more than $950 million in aid to Uganda each year, according to the State Department. The money supports development and health care measures, such as combating HIV/AIDS.
Uganda is already among 30 African countries that ban same-sex relations. The new proposal would broaden penalties and appears to be the first to outlaw identifying as LGBTQ+, according to Human Rights Watch.
The legislation, which passed Uganda’s parliament on Tuesday, originally imposed up to 10 years in prison for homosexual offenses.
But the new version pushed through at the last minute carries the death penalty for what is described as “aggravated homosexuality" – offenses involving minors and other vulnerable people – and life imprisonment for the offense of "homosexuality." A person convicted of "attempted aggravated homosexuality" faces 14 years behind bars.
The proposed law would declare all same-sex conduct nonconsensual, criminalize same-sex marriage and make it illegal to conduct a marriage ceremony between people of the same sex. It would also threaten prosecution and imprisonment for people and institutions, including the media, that distribute any conduct that advocates gay rights or “promotes homosexuality,” according to the BBC.
Supporters of the law say it is needed to punish a broad array of LGBTQ+ activities allegedly threatening traditional values in the religious country.
“This country will stand firm and once it is passed, I can tell you madam speaker, we are going to reinforce the law enforcement officers to make sure that homosexuals have no space in Uganda,” Musa Ecweru, a member of the Ugandan Parliament, said as the bill was considered.
Human Rights Watch urged Ugandan lawmakers to withdraw the proposal.
“The criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct contributes to a climate in which violence and discrimination against LGBT people is widespread,” the non-governmental organization said.
The bill still requires the signature of President Yoweri Museveni to become law. Although he hasn’t commented on the specific legislation, Museveni has previously supported anti-LGBTQ+ measures.
Museveni signed a previous law that had toughened laws against the LGBTQ+ community, but Uganda’s constitutional court nullified it in 2014 solely because it passed parliament without a required quorum.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration has “grave concerns” about what would be “the most extreme anti-LGBTQI+ law in the world.”
“If the [bill] is signed into law and enacted, it would infringe on universal human rights, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and invest[ment] in Uganda and damage Uganda’s international reputation,” she said. “No one should be attacked, imprisoned or killed simply because of who they are or whom they love.”
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also condemned the proposal Wednesday on Twitter.
“The Anti-Homosexuality Act passed by the Ugandan Parliament yesterday would undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Blinken wrote. “We urge the Ugandan Government to strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation.”
The State Department has said that Uganda has experienced “relative political stability and economic growth” under Museveni, who came to power in 1986, but still faces “significant human rights, governance, and democracy deficits.”
According to a 2022 State Department fact sheet, Uganda is a “reliable partner” for the U.S. in promoting stability and combating terrorism in the region.
Kirby said Tuesday that U.S. foreign policy supports expanded human rights throughout the world.
“We … are never going to shy away or be bashful about speaking up for those rights and for individuals to live as they deem fit, as they want to live,” he said. “And that's something that's a core part of our foreign policy, and it will remain so.”
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