Author of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill Gives Defense

Uganda's parliament is expected to vote Friday on a bill that would impose harsh punishments on homosexuals. The Associated Press reports that the original bill requires the death penalty for "serial offenders," life imprisonment for those convicted of homosexual acts, and a seven year prison sentence for those aiding and abetting homosexual acts. Host Michel Martin speaks with the author of Uganda's anti-gay bill, David Bahati, about the bill's potential impact in Uganda if it passes.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, retail sales are up for the 10th consecutive month. We'll talk about whether this means that the economic recovery we all hope for is finally here or perhaps not.

But, first, we go to Uganda where parliament is expected to vote tomorrow on a proposal intended to discourage homosexuality. The legislation would impose prison sentences, not only on gays and lesbians, but on those who fail to report homosexual behavior. The bill originally called for the death penalty for some gay adults identified as, quote, "serial offenders." But after widespread international criticism, including from President Obama, Ugandan lawmakers say that they have removed that provision.

We will hear two views of the measure. We'll hear first from the advocates of the bill. We're joined now by David Bahati. He is a member of Uganda's parliament, the author of the legislation. And we caught up with him in Kampala, Uganda.

Member of Parliament Bahati, thank you so much for joining us.

DAVID BAHATI: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Would you please remind our listeners, who perhaps have not followed this story, which we have been covering, why you feel this bill is needed?

BAHATI: The bill is needed because there is a lot of money coming in in our country to (unintelligible) people who are recruiting children against their consent into this behavior of homosexuality. And also to stop the promotion and the recruitment of our children into homosexuality. And to provide for care for the victims of homosexuality.

MARTIN: I understand that you feel that homosexuality is a cultural import from parts of the world outside of Uganda and outside of Africa, generally. But what do you make of the scientific research, which is accepted in the West, that homosexuality is something - it's a genetic imprint, just like race or skin color or hair color? You just don't believe that?

BAHATI: We don't believe that. We have conclusive research to the effect that homosexuality is a learned behavior and can be unlearned. We have seen people who have been recruited into this behavior and who have changed their minds and now they are working well as the ordinary citizens.

MARTIN: It's been reported that the death penalty provision will no longer be in the version of the legislation to be presented to parliament, perhaps as early as tomorrow. Is that true, that the death penalty provision is no longer there?

BAHATI: That is true. In the first place, it had never been for provided for two consenting adults. It has always been for adults who are (unintelligible) minors in a homosexual arrangement. But that's an idea that we have gone away from for now.

MARTIN: What about those who argue that Uganda doesn't take rape as seriously - or forcible rape - as seriously as it's taking this? That there are women who are regularly, and frankly, children who are regularly victimized by persons who are imposing themselves on them, but there hasn't been this outcry about that. What do you say about that?

BAHATI: That view, actually, we passed a law in 2007 about the parliament. So we take that issue very seriously as we take this one also seriously. Anything that harms our children, that harms our society, is of great concern. And I'm happy that I've been able to bring this issue to the national debate.

MARTIN: What do you make of the intense international criticism that has attended this issue? As we mentioned, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, Great Britain's foreign secretary William Hague have all reacted very strongly to this. And these are leaders who have otherwise been quite supportive of Uganda, particularly its health efforts. And so what do you make of their strong opposition to this?

BAHATI: In my opinion, it's a contradiction to democracy because this process is democratic and we hope that parliament will pronounce of it. There's nobody in the world who accepts that children should be recruited in a behavior that they don't like. The amendments have been focusing on that common ground. That's going to be the final version tomorrow.

MARTIN: What do you say to those who argue that your advocacy of this bill and this issue in the manner in which you have, even proposing the death penalty, which is something that has been, as you tell us, has been taken out of the bill, has created a climate of hatred that has had very negative consequences? As you know, the activist David Kato was murdered, some say because of his opposition to this bill.

In 2009 I interviewed him on this program, as you know. We've talked subsequently. And I'll just play a short clip from that interview of him explaining what it was like for him as a gay man living in Uganda. I'll just play that short clip for those who don't recall.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

DAVID KATO: This part of the hostile environment we manage. What do we do? We have civil societies, non-governmentals that have the same aims and goals, liberating the marginalized groups. So we work hand in hand with the international, regional and non-governmentals here to see that we can survive.

MARTIN: What do you say about that, Mr. Bahati?

BAHATI: The death of David Kato had nothing to do with the bill in parliament. The matter has been investigated by police and they have proved the contrary. It's unfortunate that he died. We send condolences to parents of Kato. But it had nothing to do with the bill for parliament.

MARTIN: And, finally, Mr. Bahati, much of the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction. As you know, in South Africa, homosexuality is already legal and civil unions are legal. In Mexico City, for example, civil unions are now legal. In much of the rest of the world it seems like the trend is moving in the other direction. Do you think that these other countries are just stupid or wrong or they just don't get it? What is your sense of why that is?

BAHATI: Rights has nothing to do with majority. You can be minority, but as long as you are right, I think that is very important. We are sure that what we are engaged in is right. And instead, we are providing leadership to a matter that we think should be handled the way we are handling this. And after all, this is God's cause and we know that if God started this deal and he will see its completion.

MARTIN: David Bahati is a member of Uganda's parliament. He's the author of the measures intended to discourage homosexuality that we have just been talking about that has received so much attention internationally. He says that this legislation may be voted on as early as tomorrow. And he was kind enough to join us on the line from Kampala. Member of Parliament Bahati, thank you so much for joining us.

BAHATI: God bless you.

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