Ugandan court overturns anti-gay law

At the Ugandan Constitutional Court, anti-gay Pastor Martin Ssempa was upset, while LGBT rights activists were jubilant. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)
At the Ugandan Constitutional Court, anti-gay Pastor Martin Ssempa was upset, while LGBT rights activists were happy. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

Uganda’s Constitutional Court today threw out the country’s harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act on the grounds that it was passed illegally without a quorum of parliament.
Fridah Mutesi, a plaintiffs’ attorney, stated:

“History has been made today in Uganda when the panel of five justices of appeal unanimously agreed with our submissions that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, was passed without a quorum and thus null and void under the supremacy of the Constitution.
“[Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s] action of omitting to ascertain the quorum on the 20th December  2013 after it had been raised three times was an illegality under the Constitution and the parliamentary rules of procedure.”

Because today’s action was not based on the content of the law, Uganda’s parliament might pass the same bill again — this time with a quorum present — since it has widespread support inside and outside parliament.

Ugandan Constitutional Court session today. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson/Facebook)
Ugandan Constitutional Court in session earlier this week. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson/Facebook)

Before the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Ugandan law already called for life imprisonment for homosexual activity, but that law had been rarely used.  The parliament’s adoption of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in December led to increased harassment and brief detentions of LGBT people in Uganda, even before it took effect. It is unclear whether that harassment will continue.
The now-overturned law provided for imprisonment for five to seven years for anyone convicted of “promoting homosexuality” or who “in any way abets homosexuality and related practices.” (See more provisions of the overturned law in the article “Draconian details of Uganda’s misguided new anti-gay law.“)
Today’s successful challenge was brought by LGBT and human rights activists, legal experts and opposition politicians.
Human rights activists, including Frank Mugisha (right), leader of Sexual Minorities Uganda, or SMUG, were jubilant after today's ruling. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook.)
Human rights activists, including Frank Mugisha (right), leader of Sexual Minorities Uganda, or SMUG, were jubilant after today’s ruling. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook.)

They included Professor J. Oloka-Onyango, member of parliament Fox Odoi, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) leader Frank Mugisha, Freedom and Roam Uganda leader Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesera and the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum — Uganda (HRAPF).
They were represented by five counsel: Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, Caleb Alaka, Francis Onyango, Nicholas Opiyo and Fridah Mutesi.
Activists worried about the possibility of a backlash because of the ruling.

Anti-gay Pastor Martin Ssempa told BuzzFeed after the ruling that:

“He suspected the court had been corrupted, and would demand an appeal of the ruling to the Supreme Court and an investigation by Parliament into the independence of the judiciary.

” ‘This decision is a legal travesty. It is an insult to all family culture loving people in Uganda,’ Ssempa said. ‘Is there possibility that the president traveling to Washington next week could be the reason why this case was hurried at lightening speed?… We just wonder if indeed our country is independent, and we want to ask the parliament to investigate the independence of the judiciary.’ “

Gay Star News noted the response to the ruling from member of parliament David Bahati, the author of the Anti-Homosexuality Act:

” ‘Make no mistake the gymnastics and simple technicalities will never rule this country,’ he said.
” ‘I want to thank the speaker and all of the members of parliament who stood for what is right.
” ‘Our competent legal team will continue to petition the Supreme Court and I believe we will win.’ “

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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