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What Can We Do About Nigeria’s ‘Jail All the Gays’ Marriage Prohibition Act?

What Can We Do About Nigeria’s ‘Jail All the Gays’ Marriage Prohibition Act?

Nigeria’s President has just secretly signed a bill into law that will jail gay people for up to 14 years if they attempt or actually marry. The bill has drawn heavy criticism from the US and Europe, but what can the world do and what’s next for gay rights in Nigeria?

The legislation, which was passed by the country’s lawmakers last May and was actually singed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan on January 7 but without announcement, says:

“A marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex: (a) is prohibited in Nigeria; and (b) shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.Persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison.”

The “civil unions” provision and associated language is actually so broad it could cover simple cohabitation, so men or women living together would become suspect for a breech of this law. To give an idea of how truly overreaching and paranoid the legislation is, the language in the bill is also so badly put together that it could even criminalize “caring relationships” — essentially good friendships — between persons of the same sex.

The legislation also makes it a criminal offence for gay people to hold meetings and for anyone to witness the formation of or facilitate said meetings:

“Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”

The legislation also reserves and makes clear the right of the government to conduct raids on any so-called suspect premises or, potentially, dwellings.

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, as it is known,is largely thought to have been inspired by Uganda’s still pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The legislation, however, has a particular spin in that, while like most Sub-Saharan African nations Nigeria has long criminalized homosexuality, Nigeria’s constitution technically had no provision to ban same-sex marriage and this bill attempts to answer that. With this as cover to further persecute Nigeria’s already underground LGBT population, lawmakers began flirting with a death penalty bill in 2011. International outcry soon reshaped that into a “Jail the Gays” bill, and today we see the fruits of that labor.

World leaders have condemned the legislation, withU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday saying in a statement to On Top Magazine:

“Beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians. Moreover, it 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, Kerry added.

Canada and several other nations have also spoken out. Unfortunately, and unlike with Uganda, threats to cut international funding are less likely to have a meaningful impact as Nigeria’s primary source of income is its oil output and none of the Western powers are likely to forgo that in a hurry.

That said, there are ways in which Nigeria can be made to feel uncomfortable about this law. Its place in the Commonwealth and all the powers and benefits that come with that membership could be threatened, and similarly with its UN Security Council seat, which it won in October of last year.

To that end, the NGO AIDS-Free World has already petitioned for Nigeria to voluntarily relinquish its seat, saying that Nigeria is in violation of international human rights standards and is essentially actively going against everything the UN stands for by rendering all UN-backed LGBT rights initiatives in the country unenforceable.

Whether Nigeria will reconsider its position on this issue, however, looks doubtful. The question then becomes whether Western countries will take appropriate steps to offer asylum to Nigeria’s beleaguered LGBT community as this bill certainly qualifies as an active attempt at further criminalizing an already at risk population.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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60 comments

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10:35AM PST on Jan 19, 2014

Very sad news.

6:43PM PST on Jan 17, 2014

Thank you.

2:35PM PST on Jan 17, 2014

What can we do? We can sign petitions, we can protest, we can flag up these gross injustices, just like we can protest about the neanderthal language of the vile, vicious Putin and his cronies. We can march and write.We may not bring enlightenment to some of the dark minds in this world, but at least we shall have tried.

5:20AM PST on Jan 17, 2014

Dreadful. Where's the humanity gone...unfortunately compassion-intelligence and understanding can't be taught like algebra. Equality+love 4 all--ALWAYS.

2:22PM PST on Jan 16, 2014

What can WE do about it? Nothing....religion has an iron grip on the country and only the Nigerians themselves can change things. Pity. But true.

Now...where is the UN? You know....the United Nations. The organization which has a charter saying they'll work to achieve human rights internationally.

2:05PM PST on Jan 16, 2014

Liliana, it's nice to read you again!

"I agree they should give up their seat in the UN Security Council until they respect human rights but so should the super espionage emporium and drone wielding USA!"

Couldn't say it better - after all those nations who don't respect the UDHR are kicked out of the UN and any other international body like the ICC and so on ... then we should also kick out Nigeria!

I just wonder - what's worse? Nigeria and it's new law ... or a country that invades other sovereign countries because of their resources, covers almost every corner of the earth with military bases (around 800 of them at the moment), goes after whomever they don't like with drones and/or hired hitmen, keeps innocent people for over a decade stashed away in a hellhole called Guantanamo ... and has the audacity to want to educate the rest of the world with respect to Human Rights?!?!

With respect to LGBT - if memory serves me right then there are still some 30 states in the US where gay people can get legally fired just because they're gay. Is this in line with the UDHR?!

Hypocrites incl. all those who bash Nigeria. Yes, I think the new law is wrong - but shouldn't we first clean our own house before we try to tell others to clean theirs?

11:54AM PST on Jan 16, 2014

Laura P- with that kind of negative and extremely limited understanding of the world, I feel pity for you. Not surprised that Jacob R (the little twit) has the same feelings since he is a Republican hack/troll.

10:48PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

The Secretary General of the UN should immediately kick Nigeria's ass right off the security council and every seat they may have representation on.

9:46PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Any comment coming from imperialists powers just make matters even worse! That said, I'm sure there are portions of their (Nigerian) belief system that probably contradicts the punishing diatribe of the "mainstream" right now. It's a matter of finding these gaps and using them to benefit human relations in general and love expressions of "forbidden relations" in particular! No economic sanctions, please! That's the ideology of empires. I agree they should give up their seat in the UN Security Council until they respect human rights but so should the super espionage emporium and drone wielding USA!

9:44PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

How horrible!

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