Nigeria Takes Hard Stand Against Homosexuality

Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan
Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan, ©Annaliese McDonough/Commonwealth Sectratariat

A ban on gay marriage and the outlawing of any groups found to be actively in support of the rights of gay people was voted into being during a Nigerian House of Representatives session on Thursday. The vote also endorsed having any couple of the same sex caught displaying affection in public sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The vote was immediately sent to President Goodluck Jonathan for approval and to be signed into law, after what appeared to be unanimous vocal approval from the Representatives. Despite the public denouncement lesbians and gays have already been facing, and the possibility of being sentenced to time in prison that currently exists in Nigeria, it was uncertain whether the measure would bear the signature of the President.

Despite the United Kingdom's threat to cease all aid to any nation that discriminates against lesbians and gays, authorities in Nigeria are determined to make homosexuality a criminal offense. Many African nations are taking a hard stand against homosexuality, and believe that the Western world is challenging many of their long-standing values.

The bill had been passed by the Nigerian Senate in November 2011 but the measure remained shelved until Thursday when it was once again brought before the House.

The law proposes that no church or mosque could perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, and any marriage that occurs between couples of the same sex would carry a penalty of imprisonment for each person for any period up to 14 years.

Anyone assisting a gay or lesbian couple to marry, or anyone witnessing a marriage between a same-sex couple could face 10 years imprisonment. If convicted, the same sentence could be brought down upon anyone in support of gay rights, or publicly demonstrating affection for another member of the same sex.

Although the House took a vocal vote and approved the clauses that had already been passed by the Senate, without any debate, President Jonathan has yet to give his decision.

Since the end of British colonial rule in Nigeria, there has been a total ban on sex between couples of the same gender. Amidst strong opposition to homosexuality by both Muslims and Christians, gays are subjected to public discrimination, ridicule and abuse.

Many other African countries have already instituted jail sentences for anyone convicted of being homosexual or participating in a homosexual act.

Uganda has only recently amended a bill that previously saw lesbians and gays under the threat of being executed.

Lesbians have been subjected to "corrective rapes", assaulted and in some cases murdered in South Africa, the one country in which gay marriage is permissible.

Amidst rising interest in the law proposed in Nigeria, some sexual minorities have been offered asylum in countries of the European Union. Despite Great Britain supplying only a small amount of aid in Nigeria, their government has threatened to cease all aid to any African country discriminating against lesbians and gays.

The United States has taken a similar stand with President Obama directing officials to uphold the human rights of lesbians, gays and trans gendered. Diplomats were also called upon to fight against efforts by foreign governments to make being gay a criminal offense.

Some groups funded by USAID, a U.S. government agency, could be in jeopardy under the proposed law, as their work to try to eradicate AIDS and HIV in Nigeria involves close contact with lesbians and gays. Nigeria is home to one of the largest AIDS and HIV populations in the world.

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