Rights groups and gay activists in
Nigeria are speaking out on a bill that criminalizes gay unions under
the guise of a gay marriage ban. Being gay is already illegal in the
The new law would punish gay and
lesbian relationships with up to three years of imprisonment if the
pair were caught living together. Gay allies are made into criminals
as well; anyone who “witnesses, abet[s] and aids” a gay couple
living together could face five years of imprisonment.
“The bill masquerades as a law on
marriage, but in fact it violates the privacy of anyone even
suspected of an intimate relationship with a person of the same sex,”
said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It
also threatens basic freedoms by punishing human rights defenders who
speak out for unpopular causes.”
At a National Assembly committee
hearing on the issue, gay activist and rights groups spoke out
against the proposed bill, reports the BBC.
“This bill is not necessary, we see
no reason why people should be criminalized,” Rashidi Williams, 21,
of the Queer Alliance of Nigeria, said.
“I did not choose to be gay. It is
trial enough to live in this country, we should not create more laws
to make us suffer,” Williams added.
Lawmakers say the bill is needed to
break the links between “sodomy” and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Nigeria remains in the grip of the HIV pandemic. It has the world's
third-largest population of people living with AIDS, but research
reveals that 80% of the infected are heterosexual.
Both the Anglican and Catholic church
of Nigeria are backing the bill; they said gay marriage risks
“tearing the fabric of society.”
“If you are not careful and allow the
family institution to break down, and the consequences will be on all
us,” Mayor Eze, the bill's sponsor in the House, said.
The bill is just the latest in a rash
of anti-gay rhetoric that has been spilling out of Africa in recent years.
Last week, up to 20,000 people took the streets of Bujumbura,
Burundi angry that senators had rejected a law that would criminalize
being gay. Ethiopian religious leaders called being gay “the
pinnacle of immorality” when they asked lawmakers for a
constitutional amendment criminalizing being gay in a country where
it is already illegal. Nigerian leaders attempted to pass a law last
year that would have criminalized associating with a known gay
person. Gambia's president has called for the beheading of gay men
and women. And human rights groups have condemned the harsh eight
year prison sentence given to nine men in Senegal who were found
guilty of being gay. Prosecutors secured their convictions with
condoms found at the office where the men worked: an HIV/AIDS
Over 25 leading human rights
organizations, including the United Kingdom's Amnesty International
and the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), a U.S.-based
gay-affirming church, have signed onto a letter urging lawmakers to
reject the “Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2008,”
calling the bill an incitement to homophobia and transphobia.
“This legislation would allow the
state to invade people's homes and bedrooms and investigate their
private lives, and it would criminalize the work of human rights
defenders,” said Gagnon. “It is not a ban on marriage, but an
assault on basic rights.”