By Dana Rudolph
The U.S. Senate 13 April unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Ugandan Parliament to reject a proposed bill that would impose harsh penalties—including life imprisonment and the death penalty—against gay people.
The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), “encourages” the U.S. Secretary of State to “closely monitor human rights abuses that occur because of sexual orientation and to encourage the repeal or reform of laws.”
Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan are among the countries where the penalty for homosexuality includes death. The Senate bill calls on governments of all countries to reject similar laws.
The resolution states that the U.S. has been a champion of universal human rights in order to “promote the core American principles of equality and ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’” It notes that religious leaders in the U.S., including representatives from the Vatican and Anglican Church, have said that laws criminalizing homosexuality are unjust. Finally, it observes that such laws undermine U.S. efforts to fighting HIV/AIDS through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
A similar House bill, introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) awaits a hearing in the Committee on Foreign Affairs. It provides a more detailed justification of why action against the Ugandan bill is necessary and calls on both the President and the Secretary of State to express this to the Ugandan government.
“I’m very pleased by the Senate passage and am working closely with Chairman Berman to see a similar vote in the House,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
The U.S. is not alone in its efforts. At the end of March, Canadian members of parliament passed a motion praising their government for its stance against the Ugandan bill and encouraging continued diplomatic efforts to have it withdrawn. Last week, 118 British MPs submitted a motion urging the Ugandan government to abandon its bill, decriminalize homosexuality, and ban discrimination against gay people.
Last week, the AFP reported that a Ugandan parliamentary panel said the bill was “useless” and not a priority.