Obama condemns Uganda anti-gay bill as "odious"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday denounced as “odious” a proposed anti-gay law in Uganda that has drawn international condemnation.

“We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are -- whether it’s here in the United States or ... more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda,” Obama told the National Prayer Breakfast.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking before Obama at the annual bipartisan gathering of religious and political leaders, also criticized the draft law being considered by Uganda’s parliament.

Clinton said she recently called Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and expressed the “strongest concerns” about the proposed legislation. The call was made on December 20, a State Department official said.

The East African country has faced intense pressure from Western governments and human rights groups over the draft legislation, which was presented as a private members’ bill last year.

It would prohibit sexual relations between people of the same sex as well as the recognition of homosexual relations as an acceptable lifestyle, Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last month.

Pillay said the draft law would breach international standards and it “proposes draconian punishments for people alleged to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered -- namely life imprisonment, or in some cases, the death penalty.”

It could lead to a prison sentence of up to three years for anyone failing to report within 24 hours the identities of any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered person, she added.

Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo has said a revised law would probably limit the maximum penalty for those convicted to life in prison rather than execution.

Obama, who won strong backing from homosexual voters in the 2008 presidential election, has promised to fight on their behalf.

In his State of the Union address last week, he said he would seek the repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that permits gays to serve in uniform as long as they hide their sexual orientation.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Paul Simao