Nigeria moved a step closer to not only banning gay marriage but also establishing jail terms of up to 10 years for those found guilty of forming gay rights organizations, after lawmakers passed a long-debated bill on Thursday.
President Goodluck Jonathan will have to sign the House of Representatives-approved bill before it becomes law, but whether or not he will place his name on it remains to be determined, The Associated Press reported. Nigeria receives international aid funding for AIDS and HIV outreach programs from countries like the U.S. and U.K., which have opposed the criminalization of homosexuality.
"Same-sex marriage cannot be allowed on moral and religious grounds. The Muslim religion forbids it. Christianity forbids it and the African traditional religion forbids it," the bill's sponsor, Senator Domingo Obende, previously said.
The bill, which was passed by the Senate in November 2011, carries a 10-year prison sentence for offenders who are deemed to have formed a gay rights club or organization. Any public showing of same-sex romantic relationships will also be against the law, and gay couples who marry could face up to 14 years behind bars. Those who help them or serve as witnesses to such a marriage could get up to 10 years' imprisonment.
Nigeria, a country of 170 million people, is divided by geographical and religious lines – half the population is Muslim, concentrated mostly in the North, while the other half is largely Christian, living in the South. President Jonathan is a Christian, and the Nigerian constitution provides for freedom of religion.
BBC News noted that as with a number of African nations, homosexual sex is illegal throughout the country, and gay people have said that they suffer abuse.
Some of Nigeria's Christian leaders have spoken out against same-sex marriage, with one mainstream pastor suggesting that if legalized, it could wipe out the human race within the next 20 years.
"How can a man who marries a fellow man produce a child? How can a woman who marries a woman produce a child? If this evil is allowed to stay, there will not be new born babies again in the world. As the older generation dies, would there be new generation to succeed them? Even plants and animals have new generation to succeed them," Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos said in January.