The Nigerian Senate passed an anti-gay bill on Tuesday. If enacted, the law would criminalize gay marriage, gay advocacy groups and same-sex public displays of affection.The legislation moved forward a vote the nation's House of Representatives despite international condemnation.
The bill, now much more wide-ranging than its initial draft, must be passed by Nigeria's House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before becoming law. However, public opinion and lawmakers' calls Tuesday for even harsher penalties show the widespread support for the measure in the deeply religious nation.
"Such elements in society should be killed," said Sen. Baba-Ahmed Yusuf Datti of the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change, drawing some murmurs of support from the gallery.
Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, since colonial rule by the British. Gays and lesbians face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality. In the areas in Nigeria's north where Islamic Shariah law has been enforced for about a decade, gays and lesbians can face death by stoning.
Under the proposed law, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. That's an increase over the bill's initial penalties, which lawmakers proposed during a debate Tuesday televised live from the National Assembly in Nigeria's capital Abuja.
Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, as well as criminalizing the "public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly." Those who violate those laws would face 10-year imprisonment as well.
Amnesty International condemned the bill.
"The bill will expand Nigeria's already draconian punishments for consensual same-sex conduct and set a precedent that would threaten all Nigerians' rights to privacy, equality, free expression, association and to be free from discrimination," said Erwin van der Borght, the director of Amnesty International's Africa program.
The British Government has also condemned the bill and threatens to cut-off aid. There has, as yet, been no statement from Lambeth concerning the legislation.
Ekklesia posted this piece by Savitri Hensman, that tells "How Nigeria's anti-gay bill is unjust and victimizing"
Many of the reasons given by champions of the bill are evidently flawed. For a start, no law is needed to prohibit a practice that is already unlawful. In any case, claims that criminalising same-sex partnership is essential to ensure that the population does not die out, protect national culture and safeguard morality have little credibility.
In countries where gays are not persecuted, and indeed even where the law allows same-sex marriage, the majority of people continue to enter into heterosexual marriage and have children. Individuals’ sexual orientation seldom changes, so increased social acceptance of LGBT people has little impact on numbers, though it does mean that there is less need to hide one’s identity. In any case, some lesbians and gays become parents.
Countries where same-sex marriage is recognised by law remain culturally distinct. Someone visiting South Africa is hardly likely to think they are in Iceland or Argentina.
Nor are countries where equal marriage is practised exceptionally immoral. People are far less likely to be murdered in the Netherlands, where the homicide rate per 100,000 population was 1.4 in 2004, than in Nigeria, where the rate was 17.7. With regard to religious values, in the words of 1 John 2.9, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother or sister is still in darkness.”
In reality, if this bill becomes law, it will do nothing to eradicate Nigeria’s real problems such as poverty and lack of infrastructure. Indeed it will worsen some of these problems.