Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, split between Muslims and Christians, is set to vote on legislation criminalizing same-sex marriage.
The legislation makes same-sex marriage punishable to 14 years in jail, and it passed in the country’s senate on Tuesday.
The only obstacle that remains is for the legislation to pass it in the lower house, and then have it signed by the President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Guardian reported that the legislation seeks to “tighten existing legislation, which already outlaws gay sex, by criminalizing anyone who witnesses or assists such marriages and making same-sex public displays of affection a jail-able offense.”
Sen. Abuja described homosexuality as a “mental illness,” another senator said, “such elements in society should be killed.”
Nigeria is a country that is opposed to same-sex relations. Many view the legislation as a way for the country’s politicians to gain favorability amongst the people.
Writer and same-sex marriage activist Unoma Azuah spoke on the issue.
“I've never heard of a single Nigerian same-sex couple demanding to have marriage rights.... so I am truly baffled as to why our lawmakers feel this debate is more relevant than terrorism, corruption, lack of infrastructure and education,” said Azuah.
The only thing that brings the country together the Christian south and the Muslim north is their disapproval of same-sex marriage.
Damian Ugwu, an activist with the Lagos-based Social Justice Advocacy Initiative, said that if the legislation were passed it would have a ripple effect over more than just same-sex issues.
“From what I know of the Nigerian police, they look for every opportunity to extort money. With this bill, they won't go looking for gay couples in the Sheraton – they'll go just go around rounding up people who are poor or don't know their rights,” said Ugwu.
The legislation would be grounds for law-enforcers to extend their reach.
“In the north, policemen had visited hotels at night to seek out unmarried couples sleeping together. They demanded bribes or threatened to turn them in to the Islamic courts,” Ugwu said.