Ugandan anti-gay law struck down in a ruling bittersweet for activists

BY Nora Daly  August 1, 2014 at 3:20 PM EDT
Editor of the Ugandan publication "Rolling Stone" holds a November issue of his newspaper, which published the names and photos of 14 men it identified as gay.  Photo by Marc Hofer/AFP/Getty Images

Editor of the Ugandan publication “Rolling Stone” holds a November issue of his newspaper, which published the names and photos of 14 men it identified as gay. Photo by Marc Hofer/AFP/Getty Images

Uganda’s anti-gay law, one of the harshest in the world, has been declared “null and void,” the AP reports.

A panel of five judges declared the law, which punishes homosexuality with up to life in prison, invalid Friday because it was passed by parliament without a proper quorum — the presence of a minimum number of members necessary to conduct business.

While the ruling today was a positive step for the Ugandan gay rights movement, it leaves the door open for the country’s anti-gay law to be reinstated. Because of the technical nature of the ruling, Uganda’s government may appeal, or introduce new anti-gay measures in the future. By invalidating the law, the court also disposed of a petition filed by activists to have the law repealed on the grounds that it violated rights protected by Uganda’s constitution.

The bill was signed into law by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni in February. At the time, he said scientists had assured him that “no study has shown you can be homosexual by nature.” The law originally called for the death penalty for those convicted of homosexuality, but it was softened after the international community threatened to cut off aid. President Obama publicly opposed the bill, calling it “a step backward for all Ugandans.”

In June, NewsHour reported on the impact of the law on gays in Uganda, many of whom were driven into hiding. Public health officials have also suggested that the stigma and marginalization faced by Ugandan homosexuals has led to a rise in HIV infections and AIDS related deaths in the nation, as individuals fear being outed if they seek diagnosis and treatment.