On August 1, 2014, a court struck down Uganda’s controversial Anti-Homosexuality law . This is good news, for a number of reasons. However, because the court determined that the flaw with the law was that it was passed by Parliament without a quorum, rather than on the substance of the law, this victory may be short-lived.
Why should health lawyers care? Uganda passed this act in late 2013. Others, notably in Africa and the Caribbean, have adopted similar measures over the last decade. The acts not only criminalize homosexual acts, they also criminalize behavior that “in any way abets homosexuality and related practices.” In other words, these statutes make it much more difficult to counsel men who have sex with men about how to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. It also makes it much more difficult for them to seek information that they need to protect themselves.
While Lawrence v. Texas (539 U.S. 558 (2003)) struck down U.S. laws that criminalized homosexual behavior, a majority of states still have laws that criminalize exposure to HIV, including some behaviors that present a low risk of transmission. However, many of these were adopted relatively early in the epidemic. There is little evidence to indicate they reduce HIV transmission, and some reasons to suspect they could increase HIV transmission. Legal experts and others have called for their repeal.
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest prevalence of HIV in the world. Uganda took a step backward in HIV prevention with its Anti-Homosexuality law, a step now corrected by the court’s decision to strike down the statute. With luck, the Ugandan Parliament will not seek to reinstate the law.
Leslie Wolf is the director of the Center for Law, Health & Society, and a professor with Georgia State University College of Law, teaching HIV/Aids and the Law, Health Law: Quality and Access, and Human Subject Research.