Nigeria’s Senate in Abuja unanimously adopted a harmonized final version of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill of the House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday 18 December. The bill makes it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, “promote gay marriage or behavior,” “witness or aid gay marriage” and criminalizes the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” A gay couple who got married would be punished by up to 14 years prison. Wedding guests would be jailed for up to 10 years and anyone who provides services to a gay person would be imprisoned for up to five years. LGBTI organizations will be banned, as well as any act of ‘public showing of a same-sex relationship’.
The bill now requires only the signature of President Goodluck Jonathan in order to become law. Jonathan’s intentions regarding bill are not clear.
David Mark, Nigeria’s Senate leader, said the bill will go through now and it will be signed as quickly as possible. “The earlier we sign it into law, the better.”
Homosexuality is already illegal in the federal system of Nigeria and is punished in different states in varying degrees of severity. Southern states punish same-sex acts with up to 14 years imprisonment, while northern states punish same-sex acts with a minimum of 14 years imprisonment as well as a fine. In 12 of the northern states, punishments include flogging and death by stoning.
Amnesty International urged Nigeria’s president to reject the bill. Aster van Kregten, Amnesty International’s Africa Deputy Director, said: “This discriminatory bill, which not only criminalises same-sex marriage but also makes public displays of affection and even socialising in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex community illegal, must be rejected by the President. If the President signs the bill into law it would make Nigeria one of the least tolerant societies in the world and have catastrophic consequences for the country’s LGBTI community and human rights organisations.”
The legislation has been widely condemned by rights groups and world leaders but Nigeria is seen as being less susceptible to pressure from Western governments because, as Africa’s top oil producer, it receives very little foreign aid.
Davis Mac-Iyalla, former Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, now an LGBT rights advocate living in London, said: “This law is a complete abuse of human rights. Nobody asked for same-sex marriage in Nigeria and it is already illegal, so why is this necessary? This bill is just to please the religious leaders. It amazes me that Nigeria’s lawmakers prioritizes such a bill when children are dying of starvation, young girls forced into marriage, record level of corruption and lack rising crime.
“This bill is creating an atmosphere of fear, persecution and discrimination. It is totally opposed to the heritage, vision and values of the late Nelson Mandela. I am concerned that this will create a domino effect in Africa. Witness how Uganda followed suit immediately. Other countries are definitely watching these developments.”
“Nigeria is already one of the worst places in the world to be gay. Once you begin to talk about LGBT issues openly, you can be attacked, lynched, murdered. The government is aiming to crush any form of resistance to this; they are terrorizing same-sex couples with their laws. We need to keep fighting and keep challenging these leaders. Silence is the only way they can win.”