By Melanie Nathan, May 30, 2013.
Today in Nigeria, lawmakers passed a bill Thursday banning gay marriage and outlawing anyone from forming organizations supporting gay rights, setting prison terms of up to 14 years for offenders.
Nigeria’s House of Representatives approved the bill in a voice vote. In the meantime there may be differences between the House and Senate versions, and so a joint committee of lawmakers will have to first reconcile the bill before sending it to President Goodluck Jonathan for him to potentially sign into law. It is not known whether he will sign. However what is known is that this will cause a huge outcry in the international community.
Both the United States and the United Kingdom raised concerns over this because is put foreign funding for AIDS and HIV outreach programs in jeopardy.
AP reports note that Nigeria’s Senate previously passed the bill in November 2011 and the measure quietly disappeared for some time before coming up in Thursday’s session of the House. Under previous versions of the proposed law, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, as well as criminalizing the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” Those who violate those laws would face 10-year imprisonment as well.
Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, since colonial rule by the British. Gays face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality.
Kaleidoscope Trust director of faith and social development, Rev. Ijeoma Ajibade, said:
‘This legislation denies LGBT Nigerians their fundamental rights. By claiming it is about outlawing same-sex marriage, the parliament is deliberately misleading people. Not a single group in my home country has asked for gay marriage. They ask only for the same rights to freedom from discrimination, personal liberty, human dignity and privacy that all Nigerians are entitled to under the constitution. “Nigeria confronts serious issues of national security, corruption and poor governance that parliament should be tackling rather than launching attacks on sections of its own people.”
Bisi Alimi, a Nigerian LGBT activist and one of the founders of the Kaleidoscope Trust, called on the international community to protest to President Jonathan. “If this bill is signed into law Nigeria will be the first country in recent history to increase the penalties for LGBT people in this way. It will only encourage those in countries like Uganda and Sierra Leone who want to do the same.”
Nigeria’s proposed law has drawn the interest of European Union countries, some of which already offer Nigeria’s sexual minorities asylum based on gender identity.
We have yet to hear from the U.S.A. where asylum is almost an impossibility for someone who is stuck in Nigeria and unable to get out. What western countries including the U.S.A. ought to be doing is providing special “persecution” VISAS to LGBT people in these African countries that criminalize their sexuality and we as an LGBT community should be screaming loud and clear imploring upon our government to help our African LGBTI communities. We are doing very little at this time. But now that the heat is on, we need to act quickly. The way the law stands an LGBT persons would have to become refugees before finding a country to settle them, or as far as the U.S. is concerned enter the US on a visitor or other VISA and ask for asylum, which is barely affordable and usually impossible to obtain for most, or if they apply for asylum within their country at an embassy, many are turned away or it takes over 18 months to effect.
The measure also could affect HIV and AIDS outreach programs funding by USAID, an arm of the U.S. government. Nigeria has the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV and AIDS.
We have yet to read the legislation in its current form and so we do not know if it has included reporting known gays. We will keep you updated as to all its provisions. The AP also could not get their hands on the actual copy of the bill, but we are told it is sweeping and extremely onerous.