Posted: Sun, June 09, 2013 | By: Sex / Gender
by Leo Igwe
Nigerian lawmakers have once again passed a bill against gay marriage. The bill which bans same sex marriage and outlaws any groups supporting gay rights was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives. The bill bans any gay marriage from being conducted in a church or a mosque.
“Gay or lesbian couple who marry could face up 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Anyone taking part in a group advocating for gay rights or anyone caught in a “public show” of affection also would face 10 years in prison if convicted by a criminal court’
Since 2006, there have been repeated attempts by the government to legislate against same sex marriage. But none of the bills has, as in this case, succeeded in scaling through both Houses of the National Assembly. So what we have seen in the case of the current bill is an unprecedented move to criminalize gay marriage. The bill is now awaiting the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan.
But the question is: Will President Jonathan sign this outrageous bill into law?
Here are reasons why I think he should not. First of all, the repeated moves by lawmakers since 2006 to ban same sex marriage is clearly unwarranted. It is an indication of pervasive, persistent and obsessive homophobia among our politicians. And political homophobia is not consistent with the reason why the lawmakers were elected in the first place. Our lawmakers were elected to make laws that protect the citizens, not laws that harm them.
The passing of the anti gay marriage bill is another sign that Nigeria is governed and led by those who are not forward looking in their legislative thinking and reasoning; those who cannot make laws and policies that reflect the realities of the time and the actual needs and aspirations of the people.
There is no doubt that the bill enjoys the popular support of the religious groups in the country. Both Christian and Islamic leaders have come out openly and expressly in support of the bill. But that should not be interpreted to mean that the proposed law is good for Nigeria. No, it is not. Nigeria is a democracy, not a Christian or an Islamic theocracy. As in this case, a bill that agrees with the teachings of religious organizations does not necessarily imply that it is consistent with the canons of a constitutional democracy. Democracy upholds the will of the majority while respecting the rights of minorities. This bill violates the rights of sexual minorities in the country.
More importantly, there is literally nothing happening in Nigeria or in the world today that warrants this retrogressive move to outlaw gay marriage. In Nigeria, homosexuality is a crime under the law. So what is an anti gay marriage bill really meant to accomplish? To reinforce the criminality of gay sex? Can a gay marriage be legally contracted in a country where homosexuality is a crime?
Recently many countries have been reviewing and reconsidering the law against homosexuality given the human rights implications of this criminal provision. In fact some countries have gone ahead to decriminalize homosexuality and legalize gay marriage. Many nations are beginning to extend marriage rights and equality to all citizens despite the sex or sexual orientation. Instead of our lawmakers taking steps and considering legislations along these lines, they went ahead and passed a bill that would make homophobia and sexual apartheid a state policy.
The provisions in this bill are not in accordance with Nigeria’s human rights obligations and commitments locally and internationally. The bill makes some Nigerians criminals based on who they are, the persons they associate with and the opinions they hold. It gives legislative backing to acts of religious fanaticism, to gay persecution and witch hunt, to inciting violence against persons on the basis of their real or imagined sexual orientation. This bill, if signed into law, will turn Nigeria into a hot bed of homophobic attacks.
Again the bill is not compatible with our local culture and traditions as many have argued. The cultures and traditions in Africa are diverse, dynamic and tolerant in terms of sexual, marriage and family norms and values. They do not sanction hatred, intolerance, oppression, persecution, and discrimination against persons with different sexual orientation or lifestyle as this bill expressly does. Hatred and persecution of gay people are certainly not the ‘African values’ which many politicians are using to argue against gay rights and support the ban on gay marriage.
Lastly this bill will make Nigeria a laughing stock and a pariah state internationally. It will further compound our problems locally while complicating the task of nation building. We, in Nigeria, have already enough problems on our hands- Boko Haram, Islamic fundamentalism and insecurity in Northern Nigeria, crime and militancy in the Niger Delta, crisis in the power sector, rising unemployment and unemployability (no such word so omit) widespread poverty etc.
So we cannot afford to add to these problems. Generations yet unborn would be ashamed and horrified to know that we- the current generation of Nigerians- stood by and allowed this homophobic bill to become a law.
So I urge President Goodluck Jonathan not to sign into law the anti gay marriage bill.