Politics
Anti-gay supporters celebrate after Uganda Anti-gay supporters celebrate after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni signed a law imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality in Kampala Feb. 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Edward Echwalu)  

Obama pressures Uganda to repeal anti-gay law

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama is cutting U.S. aid for the poor African country of Uganda and blocking a health survey, because its elected government signed a popular and harsh law against homosexual conduct.

The punishment was revealed in the 12th paragraph of a Washington Post story about an expensive new effort to track down a roving warlord near northern Uganda.

The penalty spotlights the administration’s top-level and hard-edged effort to punish countries that disagree with its gay rights agenda.

“We need you to combat restrictions… [and] in countries transitioning to democracy, we must help them navigate the difficult choices they must make, without dictating the outcomes,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice told an D.C. assembly of senior U.S. diplomats in March. (RELATED: Forget Ukraine: Gay rights are Obama’s foreign policy priority)

The cuts are part of an ambitious foreign policy effort to rapidly elevate the status of gays in Africa and in other continents.

For example, shortly before the Russian government decided to seize the Crimea, Obama repeatedly urged the Russian parliament to reverse its popular law barring advocacy of Western-style gay rights.

“Nobody’s more offended than me about some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia,” Obama said.

The Russian law was intended to boost Russia’s shrinking population, which is expected to drop from roughly 140 million to 120 million by 2050. In contrast, the populations of China and the Muslim countries to Russia’s East and South are rising.

The White House has not repeated those novel demands since the Ukraine crisis began.

Uganda is a very different target, partly because it gets roughly $400 million in U.S. aid each year.

The poor country’s government signed a long-debated law Feb. 24, which imposed a very harsh penalty of life imprisonment for homosexual behavior. Ugandan officials said the White House’s heavy-handed opposition to the law increased public support for the measure.

The quick cuts include $6.4 million from the Interreligious Council of Uganda, and the transfer of $3 million for tourism and environmental protection from the Ugandan government to approved nongovernmental organizations.

A survey designed to minimize the spread of the lethal AIDS disease was also blocked, because “we think proceeding could cause danger to staff and respondents,” claimed Grant Harris, senior African affairs director for the National Security Council, and a special assistant to Obama.

“We are continuing to look at additional steps we might take,” Harris told The Washington Post, and “continue to urge Uganda to repeal the law.”

Obama’s elevation of gay rights to a central policy goal also includes a demand of legal recognition and protections for the few people who want to live as members of the opposite sex.

Domestic politics may a play a role. In 2012, Obama’s fundraising was boosted by wealthy gays after he endorsed a legal redefinition of marriage that would shift its focus from aiding childrearing towards promoting companionship for adults, including childless or single-sex couples.

In the U.S., gays and lesbians comprise roughly four percent of the population. People who describes themselves as transgender comprise less than one percent of the population.