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Museveni sets terms for signing gay bill

Caught in a controversy that won’t seem to die soon, President Museveni surprised his ruling NRM MPs on Friday when he said he would only sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, if he gets scientific proof that homosexuals are made and not born.

His declaration stirred an angry response from the NRM caucus meeting at State House on that day.

Sources at inside the meeting said MPs nearly turned rowdy as they faced off with the combative Museveni, who arrived two hours late for the 10am meeting.

The source said Museveni looked tough as he arrived, which may have forced some MPs not to be too argumentative.

“He told us that his views against the law were influenced by a report by some gay rights activists whom he met recently. He said that those activists told him that gays were born just like albinos,” a source said.

But the MPs reacted by booing him. At times Museveni called the MPs to order, reminding the rowdy MPs that he was in charge.

His loyal supporters at this meeting, we are told, were Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Vice President Edward Ssekandi. Some doctor MPs such as Dr Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbarara municipality) and Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkiizi East) told the president that his newfound assertions could not be proven scientifically.

They told him that homosexuality is a behavioural diversion from the social phenomenon which must be fought. Museveni then, the source said, referred the MPs to the three issues contained in his letter to the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, challenging the passing of the bill, but the MPs insisted that he should sign the bill into law.

Museveni had criticised Kadaga for passing the bill in December without a quorum. He said homosexuals were “abnormal” or were so for “mercenary reasons” and if the economy improved, they could be “rescued.”

First introduced in 2009 as a private member’s bill by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati, the bill was hurriedly passed on December 20, 2013 amid protests from Mbabazi. On Friday, both Mbabazi and Ssekandi argued against the bill, saying other laws would take care of homosexuals.

But Bahati responded by giving a situational report detailing the increasing cases of homosexuality and the need for a separate law to deal with the vice.

“The president said that he also supports the law 100% especially if it deals with people who promote, abate, recruit and support homosexuality, but was a bit hesitant to accept the law if it seeks to punish homosexuals,” our source at the meeting said.

The caucus then told Museveni that under the prevailing circumstances, he had no way of throwing out the bill after it was passed by Parliament. The MPs told him that the NRM caucus could not do much to undo what had already been passed by parliament. They urged Museveni to look for options in the Constitution.

Options

Under Article 91(3) of the Constitution, the president has 30 days to assent to this bill, or return it to Parliament with a request that the bill or a particular provision be reconsidered. He could also notify the speaker in writing that he has refused to assent to it; which, he has already done.

Parliament, under Article 91(6) may reconsider the bill and pass it again and send it to the president again. If the president rejects the law twice, the speaker can cause a copy to be laid before the House for it to be passed into law, with a two-thirds majority, without presidential assent.

The bill was passed on December 20 and today, is January 27. The speaker’s next course of action was not immediately clear. She was reportedly out of the country at the weekend. If Museveni had hoped to cow the MPs with his tough stance, this did not work. Instead, our sources said, the president appeared to soften his stand.

He later suggested that a team of scientists should be set up to study the problem (homosexuality) and present a report to the NRM caucus during its February 6-16 retreat in Kyankwanzi.

“Unless I have got confirmation from scientists that this condition is not genetic, but a behaviour that is acquired, I will not sign the bill,” Museveni reportedly said, pushing the anti-gay ball into the court of a yet-to-be-established team.

sadabka@observer.ug

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