The New York Times
– Sarah Wheaton
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — President Obama on Sunday condemned a measure to criminalize homosexuality in Uganda, publicly warning the country’s president that such discrimination could harm its relationship with the United States.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signaled on Friday that he was likely to sign a bill that would punish the “the promotion or recognition” of same-sex relations with as much as life in prison.
“As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” Mr. Obama said in his statement.
The bill, Mr. Obama added, “will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda.”
“It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people,” the president said.
Mr. Obama’s statement came as he was golfing at a private course in Rancho Mirage, near the Sunnylands estate in California where he was spending the weekend.
Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, who accompanied the president on his trip, announced that she had spoken “at length” with Mr. Museveni on Saturday evening to discourage him from signing the bill.
In a series of posts on Twitter Sunday morning, Ms. Rice said she “told him it will be a huge step backward for Uganda and the world.”
Under the proposed law, a first conviction could result in a 14-year prison sentence, and subsequent convictions of “aggravated homosexuality” could lead to a life term.
The bill passed by the Ugandan Parliament in December is a modified version of a 2009 proposal that included death sentences. It was withdrawn after an international outcry.
Mr. Obama’s statement did not limit criticism to Uganda, noting, “Tragically, we are seeing an increase in reports of violence and harassment targeting members of the LGBT community from Russia to Nigeria.”
Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was “deeply concerned” about Nigeria’s new anti-gay law. That measure would impose harsh penalties not only for people convicted of having same-sex relationships, but also for those participating in gay clubs and organizations.
Mr. Obama sent a delegation of prominent gay athletes, including the tennis champion Billie Jean King, to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, seen as a response to Russia’s ban on gay “propaganda.”