Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which criminalizes homosexual behavior and calls for life imprisonment for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” which is, among other things, defined as prior convictions for homosexual behavior.

In other words, being gay is now punishable by life in prison. That is an improvement: A previous version of the bill punished aggravated homosexuality with death.

This bill must be rescinded. It is based on the absurd belief that homosexuality is a choice and “learned behavior.” It reflects the view, sadly shared by over 90 percent of the Ugandan population, that society should not be accepting of homosexuality, that gays are, in the words of Museveni, “disgusting.”

Days after the bill was signed, a leading Ugandan tabloid ran a cover story identifying the country’s “Top 200 Homos.”

There are times when leaders must lead, rather than reflect the beliefs, or the prejudices, of their public. This is one of them. Unfortunately, when growing numbers of Africans believe that their elected representatives are corrupt and are only out to enrich themselves, the temptation is to pander to social beliefs and legislate morality, no matter how misguiding or destructive.

International condemnation must follow. U.S. President Barack Obama said the bill will “complicate” Uganda’s relations with his country, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged the government to revise or scrap the bill, rightfully noting that “everyone is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights and live a life of worth and dignity without discrimination,” as is laid out in the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Uganda’s constitution.

The World Bank has postponed a $90 million loan to Uganda for a health project because of the bill, and Norway and Denmark are reported to be cutting their aid to the country. By contrast, Japan’s ambassador to Uganda, posted in the capital Kampala, has said that his country will continue to provide support.

Bigotry must be penalized. Japan should condemn this shameful bill and join the call to rescind all such legislation. Incredibly, 76 countries still list homosexuality as a criminal offense. Such legislation reflects and reinforces old prejudices, and makes it even more difficult to tackle pressing social problems such as HIV/AIDS.

Rescind the bill: Respect for human rights demands no less.

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