The Constitutional Court justices prepare to issue their ruling striking down the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Kampala on Friday. (Pic: Spectrum Uganda)
In a landmark judgement, Uganda’s Constitutional Court ruled today that the reviled Anti-Homosexuality Act is null and void.
On Friday, the court’s five justices agreed with petitioners that the anti-gay law, said to be one of the harshest in the world, had been passed illegally by Parliament because there were not enough lawmakers present at the time.
Uganda’s Constitution and parliamentary rules prescribe a minimum number of MPs, known as a quorum, in order to vote on and pass legislation, a criterion which the court agreed was not met.
The bill was passed in a surprise vote in December last year, reportedly instigated by the notoriously anti-gay Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga. It was signed into law by President Museveni in February, despite an international outcry.
Kadaga had repeatedly promised her supporters to pass the law and ignored a warming by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi that there were not enough lawmakers in attendance at the time of the vote.
Her determination to impose the hateful law on Uganda’s gay and lesbian citizens at any cost has now led to its undoing. “The speaker was obliged to ensure that there was quorum. We come to the conclusion that she acted illegally,” said the judges in their ruling.
Activists and supporters of Uganda’s LGBT community expressed their jubilation on social media at news of the law’s demise.
Nicholas Opiyo, the Former Secretary of the Uganda Law Society, tweeted, “Justice prevailed – we won”, while LGBT rights group Spectrum Uganda said on Facebook: “It’s time to celebrate and jubilate!”
Well known activist and petitioner against the law Kasha Jacqueline tweeted: “I am no longer criminal. today we have made history for generations to come. speak OUT now. #AHA scraped.”
The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was condemned around the world, led to aid cuts and limited sanctions against Uganda. It extended the existing ban on gay sex and also punished repeat “offenders” and attempts by same-sex couples to marry, all with life imprisonment.
In addition, anyone who “aids, abets [or] counsels” a gay person and anyone who rents a home or room to a gay person could also be sentenced to seven years in jail. The law further included criminal penalties of five to seven years in prison for anyone who “promotes” homosexuality.
Despite the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s demise, previous colonial-era legislation criminalising gay sex remains in force, allowing the state to imprison anyone found guilty for life.