Uganda's so-called "jail the gays" bill, which President Yoweri Museveni signed in February and imposed seven years in jail for "the offense of homosexuality" (gay sex) and lifetime in jail for "aggravated homosexuality," is no more. This does not mark shifting attitudes in the country that has become notorious for its harsh treatment of its LGBT citizens. Rather, on Friday, a court invalidated it on a technicality: it was passed during a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum.
The panel of five judges on the East African country's Constitutional Court said the speaker of parliament acted illegally when she allowed a vote on the measure despite at least three objections — including from the country's prime minister — over a lack of a quorum when the bill was passed on Dec. 20.
"The speaker was obliged to ensure that there was a quorum," the court said in its ruling. "We come to the conclusion that she acted illegally."
But don't bust out the rainbow flags and sail over to Uganda just yet:
Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer who was among the petitioners, welcomed the ruling but said there is still a missed opportunity to debate the substance of the law. "The ideal situation would have been to deal with the other issues of the law, to sort out this thing once and for all," Opiyo said.
A colonial-era law that criminalizes sex acts "against the order of nature," still remains in effect in Uganda, allowing for the continued arrests of alleged homosexual offenders, Opiyo said.
Lawmakers will likely also try to reintroduce a new anti-gay measure, he said.
That said, this particular moment is one of relief for Uganadans who faced persecution, such as activist Dr. Frank Mugisha, who fought hard to overturn the law:
Breaking news , I am officially legal . The constitutional court in Uganda has declared anti homosexuality law 2014 null and void
— Dr. Frank Mugisha (@frankmugisha) August 1, 2014
The theatrics of Pastor Sempa aside - praying in the court room & making a nuisance of himself- the most important words will come 4m court
— Nicholas Opiyo (@nickopiyo) August 1, 2014
I'm on the lookout for that footage. Buzzfeed has a quote from Ssempa recorded outside the courtroom:
This decision is a legal travesty. It is an insult to all family culture loving people in Uganda...Is there possibility that the president traveling to Washington next week could be the reason why this case was hurried at lightening speed?… We just wonder if indeed our country is independent, and we want to ask the parliament to investigate the independence of the judiciary.
[ Image via AP]