Some much-needed good news out of Uganda: On Friday, the country’s Constitutional Court struck down a viciously anti-gay law passed in February. Under the law, gay people faced life imprisonment for having gay sex and seven years in prison for “attempting to commit homosexuality” or “promoting” homosexuality. The law applied to businesses and NGOs, whose directors faced seven years in prison if they dared to “promote” homosexuality in Uganda.
The legal triumph of the ruling was tempered somewhat by the fact that the court did not rule on the merits of the case. Rather, the judges held that parliament had not reached a quorum when the bill was passed, a technicality that renders the law a nullity. The ruling, then, is obviously problematic, as it implies that if parliament simply re-passes the bill with the requisite quorum, it might be constitutionally valid.
Still, the petitioners who brought the case, including journalist Andrew Mwenda, were celebrating a total victory on Friday, declaring the measure “dead as a door nail.” In its few months of life, the law—which was passed with the vigorous lobbying of American evangelicals—had already spurred a wave of anti-gay violence and endangered the country’s health. It’s unclear whether the genie of homophobic brutality can now be put back in the bottle, but at least that bloodshed will no longer occur with the not-so-tacit blessing of the state.
Ironically, one of the biggest winners of the ruling is Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a vocal supporter of the law. Museveni will be attending President Barack Obama’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington next week, where his country’s anti-gay views were expected to be a point of contention. In recent months, the United States has imposed sanctions on the country—and cut funds to several American programs co-run with Ugandan authorities—as a direct result of the anti-gay law’s passage and implementation. (Several other countries, as well as the World Bank, also froze aid on account of the law.) With the act officially nullified, Museveni will be in a good position to lobby for the sanctions to be reversed.