KAMPALA, Dec 12, 2012 (AFP) - Archbishop Desmond Tutu called Wednesday for Uganda to drop controversial proposed legislation that would impose draconian punishments on homosexuals, in a letter published in a national newspaper.
"Ugandas parliament is -- unbelievably -- on the verge of considering a new piece of legislation that would have the effect of legalising persecution, discrimination, hatred and prejudice in that country," Tutu wrote in the letter printed in the independent Daily Monitor.
Nobel peace prize winner Tutu likened the bill to apartheid-era laws in South Africa banning relationships between blacks and whites and slammed those claim they are protecting African culture or religion to back the proposals.
"God does not say black is better than white, or tall is better than short, or football players are better than basketball players, or Christians are better than Muslims, or gay is better than straight," Tutu wrote.
Should the bill be voted into law, "it will criminalise acts of love between certain categories of people, just as the apartheid government made intimate relations between black and white South Africans a punishable offence," Tutu said.
Ugandan lawmakers could debate the controversial anti-gay bill, which currently includes a clause calling for the death penalty for certain homosexual acts, before parliament breaks up later this week.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but the new bill proposes introducing the death sentence for anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts for a second time, as well as for gay sex where one partner is a minor or has HIV.
It would also criminalise the public promotion of homosexuality -- including discussions by rights groups -- with a sentence of up to seven years in prison for anyone convicted.
"To those who claim that homosexuality is not part of our African culture, you are conveniently ignoring the fact that LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex) Africans have lived peacefully and productively beside us throughout history," Tutu added.
The lawmaker behind the bill, David Bahati has said that the death penalty clause is likely to be dropped from the final version of the bill.
First introduced in 2009, the bill was initially shelved following international condemnation. US President Barack Obama described it as "odious".