International News: Uganda passes one of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world

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While Florida, Texas and other states with GOP-led legislatures move to criminalize various aspects of LGBTQ life, Uganda has passed a new ban on homosexuality altogether. The law is one of the harshest pieces of anti-gay legislation in Africa.

The law criminalizes anyone identifying as gay or lesbian. It passed Uganda’s parliament late in the evening of March 21 with widespread support in Uganda’s parliament. People who identify as gay or lesbian in Uganda now risk life in prison. The law also includes the death penalty in certain cases.

Media groups, journalists and publishers face prosecution and imprisonment for publishing, broadcasting, distribution of any content that advocates for gay rights or “promotes homosexuality.” Property owners also face risk of being jailed if their premises are used as a “brothel” for homosexual acts or any other sexual minorities rights’ activities.

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda but this law adds new criminal offenses. The law makes simply identifying as gay or lesbian an illegal act for the first time. But the new law now requires friends, family and members of the community to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities.

Amnesty International calls the bill, which criminalizes same-sex relations between consenting adults “appalling,” “ambiguous” and “vaguely worded.”

Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, said, “This deeply repressive legislation will institutionalize discrimination, hatred, and prejudice against LGBTI people — including those who are perceived to be LGBTI — and block the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders.” 

The law was also condemned by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the U.K.’s Africa Minister Andrew Mitchell.

Since the law was first proposed March 9, an LGBT+ civil rights activist told the BBC that the debate around the bill had led to fear of more attacks on gay and lesbian people and that blackmail was a constant threat.

“There is a lot of blackmail. People are receiving calls that ‘if you don’t give me money, I will report that you are gay,'” the activist told BBC. 

As with the GOP in the U.S., supporters of the new law accuse gay rights groups of recruiting and grooming children, and luring some with money or scholarships. No evidence has been presented to back up these claims.

Ugandan LGBT+ activist Frank Mugisha told BBC that Ugandans were being “indoctrinated” into believing that gay rights are “a threat to African values,” and was “some big monster” that was “coming from the West.”

Mugisha told BBC, “We’ve registered so many cases of violations [against the LGBTQ+ community]. We’ve seen so many cases of arrest, blackmail and extortion so this is going to increase.”

Another activist who declined to be named told the BBC. “In some areas even law enforcers are using the current environment to extort money from people who they accuse of being gay. Even some families are reporting their own children to the police.”

Hungary will defend new “Don’t Say Gay” law

In 2022, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson went to Hungary where he continued his anti-Semitic tirades against Hungarian Holocaust survivor and philanthropist George Soros. Soros, who often funds Democratic causes in the U.S., has been targeted again this week by GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. 

The links between the American GOP and Hungary’s extremist prime minister Viktor Orbán, are echoed in their shared anti-LGBTQ stances. Carlson did telecasts from Hungary, promoting the anti-gay measures that Orbán has championed.

Now Hungary’s Justice Minister says that Hungary will defend a new “Don’t Say Gay” law in Hungary against EU Court of Justice arguments that the Hungarian education law discriminates against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Orban’s assault on LGBT people ramped up when Hungary’s parliament, dominated by his Fidesz party, passed a law banning the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change at schools in 2021.

The government asserts the law is meant to protect children, not target the LGBT community.

Justice Minister Judit Varga is countering the Court of Justice discrimination claims, and said last week that, “Just as we have done so far, we will go to the wall if it’s about protecting our children.” 

Varga said the government would take “further measures” to uphold the “Don’t Say Gay” law, but she did not clarify what that meant. 

The European Commission referred Hungary to the Court of Justice of the EU over the anti-LGBT law in mid-2022.

The commission has said it considers that the law violates the EU’s internal market rules, the fundamental rights of individuals and EU values.

Orban said in a speech last month, defending the legislation: “Gender propaganda is not just… rainbow chatter, but the greatest threat stalking our children. We want our children to be left alone…. This kind of thing has no place in Hungary, and especially not in our schools.”

India government urges rejection of same-sex marriage

The world’s largest democracy, India, opposes recognizing same-sex marriages. In a Supreme Court filing March 12, the Indian government of Narendra Modi urged the court to reject efforts by same-sex couples to have their marriages recognized. 

In India, the issue of same-sex marriage is highly controversial where speaking openly about gay and lesbian relationships remains taboo in the socially conservative country of 1.4 billion people.

According to the Indian government statutes, the Ministry of Law states  that legal recognition of marriage is for heterosexual relationships and the state has a legitimate interest in maintaining this strict adherence to Indian tradition, according to this latest Supreme Court filing. Those documents have not been made public, but have been leaked to the press.

“Living together as partners and having sexual relationship by same sex individuals… is not comparable with the Indian family unit concept of a husband, a wife and children,” the ministry argued.

The court cannot be asked “to change the entire legislative policy of the country deeply embedded in religious and societal norms”, it said.

“As petitioners we have received wide support from people from all walks of life and it does not seem to me that most Indians feel injured by the thought of some loving families getting legal rights,” one of the litigants in the current case, businessman Uday Raj Anand, told Reuters after the government filed the reply in court.

In an historic verdict in 2018, India’s Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality by rescinding a colonial-era ban on gay and lesbian sex. Now the effort to legalize same-sex marriage is considered a logical next legal step and a series of petitions have been filed with the court in recent months.

LGBT activists in India assert that since the 2018 ruling affirmed their constitutional rights, they should also have recognition of their relationships as heterosexual married couples do. 

But in the latest filing, the government argued the 2018 ruling “cannot mean recognizing a fundamental legal right to same-sex marriage under the laws of the country.”

The government contends that marriage “was limited to the recognition of a legal relationship of marriage between a man and a woman, represented as a husband and wife.”

The government has argued that any change to the legal structure should be the domain of the elected parliament, not the court.

Reuters reports that the marriage battle has created controversy. In parliament a member of Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party in December asked the government to strongly oppose the petitions filed in the top court.

Human rights groups note that Asian lags behind the West in moving forward on LGBTQ rights, with many countries maintaining anti-gay laws and others refusing to acknowledge same-sex marriage. 

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