The Nigerian Senate voted on Tuesday to criminalize gay marriage in the western African nation.
The Same-Sex Prohibition Bill will penalize gay marriage with a 10-year jail term for offenders. The bill will be sent to the House of Representatives and then to President Goodluck Johnathan for approval.
Government sources say the bill is likely to pass – many lawmakers aren’t just in favor of the measure, but are calling for harsher penalties for being gay.
"Such elements in society should be killed," Sen. Baba Dati said during a debate.
The bill would punish anyone who aids in the marriage of a gay couple with a maximum 10-year jail sentence.
Nigeria is a deeply religious nation – split almost in half by Christians and Muslims. In the north, where Islamic law is observed in several states, homosexual behavior can be punished with death by stoning. Elsewhere, homosexual behavior is highly stigmatized and denigrated.
Speaking at an Oct. 31 hearing, Senate President David Mark called his Christian faith into his defense of the bill.
"My faith as a Christian abhors it. It is incomprehensible to contemplate on same sex marriage. I cannot understand it. I cannot be a party to it,” Mark said.
Many in the Nigerian government see homosexual behavior as a foreign import – a bane on the nation’s pure culture and a remnant of imperialism.
“There are enough men and women to marry each other. The whole idea is the importation of foreign culture, but this one would be a freedom too many. We cannot allow our tradition and value system [to be] eroded," Mark said.
Homosexuality is shunned in many parts of Africa – particularly devoutly religious countries. Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe is calling for a ban on homosexuality entirely. Uganda has tried and failed twice to pass legislation that would punish homosexuality with death.
The international community has remained relatively mum on the actions of Africa’s most populous nation. The British government threatened to cut aid to Nigeria if gay and lesbian rights were not respected, but their investment in the country remains small.
Nigeria is one of the top producers of crude oil for the U.S., which has not issued a statement on the proposed bill.
International pressure is unlikely to affect Nigerian lawmakers.
"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."
Nigerian lawmakers see homosexuality as a national problem. The country is currently facing a small, but growing opposition from a terror sect in the north, government corruption and the highest number of AIDS cases in the region.
"It is offensive. It is repugnant. I will preach against it and we must stand up to reject same sex marriages in Nigeria," Mark said.