ABUJA, Nigeria- Against criticism by the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and other global rights groups, on January 7, Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill outlawing same-sex marriage and LGBT organizations. The president made the move quietly, though politicians and activists have sharply criticized the law as violating Nigerians’ human rights.
The law, named the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, had been passed by the Nigerian Parliament in May 2013, but the president had failed to sign it into law until this month. Violations under the law include 14 years in prison for those accused of being in same-sex relationships.
Michelle Faul of the Associated Press reports there have been arrests of accused LGBT people in six of Nigeria’s 36 states and not just since Johnson signed the ban. She states, “So the very idea of the bill has led to this persecution of people because of their sexual differences.”
The law originally made it illegal to fail to report a same-sex relationship, but that language had been taken out before the president signed the ban.
Legal marriages between same-sex couples in other countries are considered invalid in Nigeria under the law. The punishment for sodomy remains a jail sentence.
Under the new law, not only is being in an intimate relationship with a person of the same sex prohibited, but so are attending or organizing an event for gay people and running LGBT organizations or business.
Ruben Abati, presidential spokesperson for Johnson, states, “More than 90 percent of Nigerians are opposed to same-sex marriage. The law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people.”
Abati may be correct. A 39-nation Pew Research Global Attitudes Project poll published in June 2013 revealed 98 percent of Nigerians said “no” to a question of whether society should accept homosexuality or not. This was the highest number of any surveyed population.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is roughly half Christians and half Muslims, and views on many social issues, including homosexuality, are considered very conservative.
Some politicians and human rights activists worry that a ban by such a populous and influential country could embolden other African nations, of which 39 have already banned homosexuality and sodomy, to follow suit or enact even stronger laws.
Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken out against the new law. He states that he is “deeply concerned” about the law, which he calls a violation of Nigerians’ guaranteed constitutional rights.
“Beyond even prohibiting same-sex marriage, the law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians,” he asserts.
Adotei Akwei of Amnesty International USA says that his organization is “appalled at the new legislation, which we believe will put members of Nigeria’s LGBT community at risk and is a clear violation of Nigeria’s international and regional human rights obligations.”
Nigerian LGBT rights activist David Mac-Iyalla expands, “Any form of assistance to LGBT people is now illegal…Any safer sex prevention work with men having sex with men is now illegal and will surely exacerbate HIV infection rates and death from AIDS related illness.”
Mac-Iyalla further calls on the international community to speak out against the ban and pressure the Nigerian government to repeal the law.
– Kaylie Cordingley
Sources: New York Times, Sahara Reporters, NPR
Photo: CKN Nigeria