Nigeria’s Anti-gay Marriage Bill will ultimately be counter-productive

Allafrica reports that the Anti same gender marriage bill 2011 was introduced into Nigeria’s House of Representatives on Wednesday following the Senate vote the previous week. No debate took place during the introduction of the bill and a date has not yet been set for it. The house has to vote in favour of the bill before President Goodluck Jonathan assents to or vetoes the legislation.

The bill passed by the senate would make same-sex marriages punishable by up to 14 years for the couple and 10 for anyone abetting such unions. It also sets out a 10-year sentence for “any person who … directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationships”. Gay organisations like Changing Attitude Nigeria would also be made illegal.

It remains unclear why lawmakers decided a ban was necessary, with gay marriage “not known to be prevalent in Nigeria and homosexuals already harshly discriminated against.”

The bill’s progress is having a deadening effect on LGB&T people in Nigeria. There is greatly heightened fear and anxiety about security. People are being advised to keep a low profile and take extra precautions in public.

It’s against this background that I’ve been reading Unspoken Facts: a history of homosexualities in Africa by Mark Epprecht.

In chapter 9: Gay rights to sexual rights, Epprecht describes how, when the Zimbabwe government was waging its anti-homosexual campaign from 1994, many members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) feared the group was attracting too much attention and making too much noise.

However, he says the anti-homosexual campaign had a positive rather than a negative effect because simply by publicising so widely the idea of a homosexual identity and the existence of an organisation devoted to gay rights, black membership of GALZ was significantly increased. However negative and abusive in intent the anti-gay campaign has been, the discourse has broken the taboo that existed against the frank discussion of sexuality in traditional and colonial cultures.

Conservative Christians have yet to learn the lesson that their campaigns are counter-productive and are one of the ways in which gay awareness is evolving across Africa and LGB&T people are being educated about thier rights and identities. Mark Epprecht says in relation to southern African society: “Hostile or denialist politicians have thus unintentionally helped gay rights activists to win a higher, more widely respected profile than otherwise might have been the case.

He concludes that: “There is every reason to suppose that the gay rights movement, linked to a wider struggle for sexual rights for everyone, will continue to spread, despite – or even because of – the efforts to discredit and suppress it.”

The Nigerian and Ugandan anti-gay bills and conservative Christian anti-gay campaigns are ultimately doomed to fail. Christian love, truth and justice will triumph in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across Africa who demonstrate extraordinary courage and tenacity.

Unspoken Facts: a history of homosexualities in Africa, principal author Mark Epprecht, published by GALZ, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7974-3483-7

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