WASHINGTON (TIP): US President Barack Obama warned Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni against enacting anti-gay legislation Sunday, calling it a “step backward” that would complicate ties with Kampala. Obama, who was in California for a holiday weekend of golf, issued a strong statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” in the Ugandan leader’s apparent plans to move forward with the bill. “We believe that people everywhere should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or whom they love,” Obama said in a statement.

“That is why I am so deeply disappointed that Uganda will shortly enact legislation that would criminalize homosexuality,” he added. “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, 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 anti-gay legislation cruised through parliament in December after its architects dropped an extremely controversial death penalty clause. The measure, which has been greeted with international condemnation, would criminalize the promotion or recognition of homosexual relations. Obama suggested that the Ugandan president — a key regional ally for both the United States and the European Union — risks damaging his country’s ties with Washington if he signs the bill into law.

“As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” Obama said. Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice wrote in a series of tweets that enacting the law “will put many at risk and stain Uganda’s reputation.” Rice added that she had urged Museveni to not sign the bill. Former president Bill Clinton, who has worked on health initiatives in the country through his Clinton Foundation, said he was “strongly opposed to its move to criminalize homosexuality.” “It is a setback for personal freedom and equal rights and a rebuke to Uganda’s own commitment to protecting the human rights of its people,” Clinton added.

“I want to salute and encourage the brave Ugandans committed to the fundamental dignity of all people and urge the government to reverse this decision.” Museveni, a devout evangelical Christian, has expressed the view that gays are “sick” and “abnormal.” He suggested in a letter to parliament that homosexuality was caused by a genetic flaw, or a need to make money. Nevertheless, he refused to sign the antigay legislation last month. “He does not approve of homosexuality but he believes that these people have a right to exist,” presidential spokesman Tamale Mirudi told AFP at the time, explaining why the bill had been rejected. Homophobia is widespread in Uganda. Gay men and women face frequent harassment and threats of violence, and rights activists have reported cases of lesbians being subjected to “corrective” rapes.

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