Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has signed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill that outlaws gay marriage, expressions of gay love in public and criminalizes membership in LGBT clubs and organizations. The law introduces a 14 year prison term for individuals who enter into a same-sex relationship as a marriage or civil union, and renders “void” the marriage or relationship of Nigerians performed overseas. The punishment is 10 years of imprisonment if a person is found guilty of registering, operating and participating in gay clubs, societies and organisations, and for any direct or indirect expression in public of gay affection and relationship. Legal recognition is reserved only for marriages between men and women.
The sweeping legislation has been condemned by Amnesty International, which had earlier warned of a “catastrophic” fallout for the LGBT community of Nigeria, which with more than 170 million people is the most populous nation in Africa. The country is deeply religious, with both Islam and Christianity adhered to by an estimated 48-50% each of the population. Opinion polls show that 90% of Nigerians condemn homosexuality, which was used as the justification for the president signing the law. Reuben Abati, spokesperson for the president, said “the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people.”
Nigeria already has a law handed down from British colonial rule that criminalizes gay sex. The rationale for this legislation is suspect, as in light of existing repression of gay rights, the Nigerian LGBT community had not been seeking marriage equality. In Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north, gay Nigerians can be sentenced to death by stoning under Sharia law. Initiated and passed in the Senate in November, 2011 the legislation finally cleared the Nigerian House of Representatives on May 31, 2013. At the time, Reverend Ijeoma Ajibade of the LGBT rights group, the Kaleidoscope Trust, had said “this legislation denies LGBT Nigerians their fundamental rights. By claiming it is about outlawing same-sex marriage, the parliament is deliberately misleading people.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out the new law “dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians.” He added that the law is “inconsistent with Nigeria's international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 constitution. People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love.”
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Olumide Makanjuola, executive director of the Initiative for Equality in Nigeria said that poor Nigerians who are gay or transgender would suffer the most. She said that richer Nigerians had either migrated from the country or traveled abroad for sex. LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell said Nigeria was violating both its constitution and international agreements on human rights. Makanjuola said that even talking about LGBT issues would be a criminal offense, much less organizing for rights and providing treatment for AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.
Nigeria is the latest in line of several countries that have introduced severely discriminatory laws against their LGBT communities since 2013. In December, 2013 India's Supreme Court restored its British-era code that criminalizes homosexuality, while Russia had earlier passed legislation outlawing “homosexual propaganda.” After evoking considerable global pressure, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni said he will not rush to sign a law that would jail gay Ugandans.
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