Uganda’s Constitutional Court has overturned a controversial anti-homosexuality law that made same sex acts punishable by up to life in prison. While the law was annulled because of procedural errors in its passing, rights groups still hailed the decision as a boost for gay rights in the country.
The court said its decision was based on the fact that the law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum.
Human Rights Watch LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) senior researcher Neela Ghoshal told VOA Friday’s ruling is a victory for gay rights, even though the court did not address the ethical aspects of the law.
“The court hasn’t had an opportunity to rule on the real substance matter of the case. But the fact is everybody is breathing a sigh of relief in Uganda right now because the law can no longer be enforced from today,” said Ghoshal.
Leading Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha summed up his feelings about the ruling in a single tweet saying, “Breaking news, I am officially legal.”
Ghoshal points out existing laws on the books in Uganda banning homosexuality will remain in place while the state decides whether to reintroduce the act in parliament or to appeal Friday’s decision at the Supreme Court.
Still, she says the annulment of the law gives gay rights advocates in Uganda legal leverage to fight a reported surge in discrimination — including evictions, jobs lost and denial of medical treatment since it was passed.
“There is space for people who are victims of social pressure, victims of violence to feel that they can take their complaints somewhere and hopefully obtain some access to justice,” she said.
At the time of signing, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said homosexuals should be “punished harshly” in order to defend society from “disorientation.”
Uganda faced a massive backlash from rights groups and the international community. Several countries, including the United States, reduced or redirected aid to Uganda.
In a statement released July 7, the Ugandan government said the law has been “misinterpreted” by development partners as intending to discriminate against homosexuals, saying instead the law meant to curb the “promotion of homosexuality, especially among children.”