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KAMPALA, Uganda – Amid a presidential inauguration, an opposition leader’s return to Kampala to huge crowds and public riots over economic issues, Uganda’s Parliament was adjourned today without any debate on the controversial “Kill the Gays” bill.
The bill proposed by the rabidly anti-gay David Bahati has been widely condemned by many world leaders, including President Barack Obama. It would sentence people convicted of homosexual acts to life in prison or even death. More than 1 million people around the world have signed various petitions against the bill.
Human rights groups warn that the bill remains in limbo and could be debated by the new Parliament, which will be sworn in from May 16-18. Bills that aren’t debated in the old Parliament are scuttled and must be resubmitted to the new Parliament, officials said.
Avaaz, one of the human rights groups that sponsored an online petition against the bill, hailed the decision by the outgoing Parliament to not take up the “Kill the Gays” bill.
"The news that the brutal anti-gay law won't be discussed in parliament today is a victory for all Ugandans and people across the world who value human rights,” said Alice Jay, campaign director of Avaaz.
"This vile bill is a matter of life and death for gay Ugandans, and would have seen the execution, imprisonment and persecution of friends of Avaaz, and thousands of others who have committed no crime at all. We must now ensure this heinous bill can never return to parliament again."
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who gets a lot of support from San Diegans through his St. Paul’s Foundation, noted the political climate in Uganda.
"This was a dangerous bill and there is a lot of tension and riots in the country. We feared that they may use this opportunity to do anything to anybody,” the bishop told The Guardian.
"This bill must never see the light of day as the mob could use this to inflict terrible crimes against people. The pressure from people around the world has had a big impact and the resulting influence from the international community has played a very important role in stopping this going forward today."
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of San Diego, who is president of St. Paul’s Foundation, expressed relief today at the inaction by Uganda’s Parliament.
“The best of all possible things happened,” Ogle said. “The bill did not make it to the floor and the Parliament ended today. Bahati says he will reintroduce it, but that will take a few months. So we call this moment ‘grace’ in my business … when the unexpected happens and there is a little more room to breathe and think.
“We have so much work to do to deal with the source of this problem and stop reacting to the symptoms,” Ogle said.
Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch said "the issue has not gone away.”
"The international pressure over the last year and a half has been very important to show that Uganda cannot act in isolation from the international community," she told the BBC.
Bahati, author of the bill, vowed to bring up the measure in the next Parliament.
"We have made important steps in raising the issue and that will continue," Bahati was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
The bill was debated by a Parliament committee this week, and the members recommended the version that included the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” The panel added criminal penalties for conducting same-sex marriages.