KAMPALA, (Reuters) – Uganda’s constitutional court yesterday overturned an anti-homosexuality law that punished gay sex with long prison sentences and was condemned by Western and other donors, some of whom withheld aid in protest.
The new ruling, which can be appealed, voids a statute signed into law by the president in February and which had broad support in the religiously conservative east African nation.
Under the Anti-Homosexuality Act, those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” – defined as someone with HIV having gay sex or gay sex with anyone vulnerable, such as a disabled person – would be put in prison for life.
Homosexuality is a taboo issue in much of Africa and is illegal in 37 countries on the continent. But the punishments laid out in Uganda were among the harshest.
Citing irregularities in the way the law was passed, Judge Steven Kavuma said the speaker of parliament had acted illegally by not accepting objections pointing to the fact that there was no quorum for a vote.
“The Act itself so enacted by this reason alone is unconstitutional,” he said.
Lawyers said the constitutional court ruling could be challenged through an appeals process.
Fear of violence, imprisonment and loss of jobs mean few gays in Africa are open about their sexuality.
The United States, Uganda’s biggest donor, called the legislation “atrocious”, likening it to anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany and apartheid in South Africa. When it was passed, Washington said it would review relations with Kampala.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is scheduled to travel to the United States next week for a summit of African leaders hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Museveni is to hold a press conference today and is likely to comment on the court’s ruling.
The White House welcomed the court’s decision.