Although homosexuality is already outlawed in Nigeria, a new law proposing criminal penalties for gay marriages has some worried that the move will alienate the nation from its western allies and make life for gay Nigerians even more dangerous.
"If this bill passes into law, the Nigerian government will be sanctioning even greater discrimination and violence against an already vulnerable group," said Graeme Reid, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights director at Human Rights Watch.
The new law would punish married homosexual couples with up to three years in jail, and witnesses or anyone caught assisting the couples in marriage could face to up to five years of jail time. However, possible prison sentences aren’t the only issue activists have with the new law. Some say that the language of the bill even includes penalties for those suspected of being in a same-sex union, whether married or not; it is feared this could open the door to widespread discrimination in all levels of society.
“It’s going to give the Nigerian police, who are already known for abusing their power, a license to violate the rights of both gay and non-gay people. It’s going to create an avenue where young men and women, who often live together in big cities for financial reasons, will become targets for extortion,” Damian Ugwu, a rights activist at the Lagos-based Social Justice Advocacy Initiative, said, according to IRIN.
In addition to inciting the ire of human rights activists, the proposed law also raised eyebrows in some European donor countries. Previously, the British government threatened to cut aid to African countries that harbor anti-gay legislation and are calling for reforms.
Across the African continent, many countries have struggled culturally with the idea of homosexual unions, as many view childbearing as the ultimate goal of marriage. In South Africa, the only country where gay marriage is legal, homosexuals still face violence, intimidation and discrimination.
Earlier this year in Uganda, legislators were close to passing a bill making homosexuality punishable by death penalty, but that law has since been shelved.
In the meantime, international human rights organizations are petitioning Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and urging him to oppose the bill.
(Photo: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)