Nigerian law criminalises gay marriage

Nigeria's Senate voted on 29 November 2011 to criminalise gay marriage, instituting prison terms of more than a decade for violations in a nation where gays and lesbians already face discrimination and abuse.

The bill heads to Nigeria's House of Representatives, who have to approve the bill and send it to President Goodluck Jonathan for his signature before it becomes a law. However, public opinion - and lawmakers' calls for even harsher penalties for being gay –shows wide support for the measure in the deeply religious nation.

"Such elements in society should be killed," Senator Baba Dati said during the debate.

Under the measure, couples who marry could face up to 14 years in jail, and witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. That's an increase over the bill's initial penalties.

Being gay is illegal

Homosexuality is already technically illegal in Nigeria, a country evenly divided between Christians and Muslims that is nearly universally opposed to homosexuality. In the areas in Nigeria's north where Islamic Shariah law has been enforced for about a decade, gays and lesbians can face death by stoning.

Across the African continent, many countries have made homosexuality punishable by jail sentences. Ugandan legislators introduced a bill that would impose the death penalty for some gays and lesbians, though it has not been passed into law two years later. Even in South Africa, the one country where gays can marry, lesbians have been brutally attacked and murdered.

Aid

The proposed law also has drawn the interest of European Union countries, some of which already offer Nigeria's sexual minorities asylum based on gender identity. The British government also recently threatened to cut aid to African countries that violate the rights of gay and lesbian citizens. However, British aid remains quite small in oil-rich Nigeria, one of the top crude suppliers to the US.

International opinion also didn't seem to trouble lawmakers. During the debate, televised live from National Assembly in Nigeria's capital Abuja, Senate President David Mark said Nigeria would not bow to international pressure on any legislation.

"Anybody can write to us, but our values are our values," Mark said. "No country has a right to interfere in the way we make our laws."

(Sapa, November 2011) 

Read more:

Ask out gay and lesbian expert

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
34% - 9263 votes
No
66% - 17842 votes
Vote