Conservative lawmakers in Nigeria have been trying to pass anti-gay marriage legislation for years. In fact, in 2012, Nigerian lawmakers passed a law criminalizing not only same-sex marriage, but those who fail to denounce them. Even more than that, the law made it illegal to show a public display of affection to someone of the same sex.
If that weren’t bad enough, lawmakers in Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed yet another law at the end of May banning gay marriage and any groups that support gay rights. The recently passed law also calls for a 10-year prison sentence for anyone showing a public display of affection towards someone of the same sex, enhancing the punishment of their 2012 law. LGBT couples who do marry could face up to 14 years in prison, and witnesses to the weddings could face 10 years. This law was passed unanimously and immediately sent to Nigerian President Goodluck Johnathan for him to sign it into law.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation at a population of more than 160 million people, has long held conservative values. In fact, gay sex has been banned since the country was under British rule. When they passed the 2012 legislation, House majority leader Mulikat Adeola-Akande cited religion and morality as his reasoning for wanting to pass the bill. Nigeria is not alone, however. Many African nations have already passed anti-gay legislation. Even in South Africa, where gay marriage is legal, lesbians have been brutally murdered in so-called “corrective rapes.”
Unfortunately, Nigeria is also facing an HIV/AIDS crisis. The country has one of the world’s largest populations living with HIV and AIDS and, since the disease is transmitted sexually, any groups that promote safe sex for all couples and include LGBT people will be targeted by this new law.
The British Government has already stated that they will not send aid to any countries who pass discriminatory legislation like this, but that doesn’t seem to phase Nigerian lawmakers. The aid they receive is relatively small, so they don’t seem worried about losing it. However, the law could have a direct effect on some groups that receive funding from USAID, as well, most of which work with LGBT people to combat HIV and AIDS. Some European Union countries have already come forward to offer LGBT individuals in Nigeria asylum based on gender identity. Many African governments see the European Union’s offers and Britain’s threats as a way to undermine the conservative values they hold, and they see their laws as a way to fight back against the progressive values of the West that they fear are seeping into their countries.
Chidi Odinkalu, the chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission said that, hopefully, if the bill is passed into law, it will be challenged in court.
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