Nigeria is poised to ban and criminalize gay marriage in a bill that is gaining widespread support in the country’s legislature.
The bill would prohibit gay couples from marrying and punish offenders with up to five years in prison. Witnesses of gay marriage are also subject to up to five years of jail time.
"I am so confident because Nigeria is a society that is very, very godly," Sen. Domingo Obende, who sponsored the bill, told the AP.
Nigeria is a deeply religious country, split almost in half by Christians and Muslims. Though the two groups in Africa’s most populous country have clashed on a number of issues, sources say gay marriage is not one of them.
“There is no religion that welcomes the same-sex marriage, whether Islam or Christianity,” National Tourism Director Olusegun Runsewe told reporters. “We need to be careful and do all it takes to shun this practice, because same-sex marriage is satanic and it can destroy any system, as well as cause bad image for any country.”
Homosexuality is technically illegal in Nigeria. Sodomy is punished in the mainly-Christian south with jail time, and homosexuals in the Muslim north – where Shariah law prevails – may be stoned to death, though this practice has never officially been carried out.
Members of Nigeria’s legislature consider homosexuality a “foreign import,” but think banning the lifestyle would be a boon to the country’s foreign appeal.
“Homosexual and lesbian practices are considered offensive to public morality in Nigeria. (The) bill is crucial to our national development because it seeks to protect the traditional family, which is the fundamental unit of society, especially in our country,” wrote the influential newspaper, This Day, in an editorial on Nov. 10.
“It will be difficult to import practices and lifestyles which are alien to our country and the majority of our people,” the editorial continued.
Many countries in Africa have promoted legislation to curb homosexuality. Ugandan lawmakers proposed a bill several times to punish homosexuality with death – though the bill ultimately failed. Zimbabwe, with a population that is 75 percent Christian, has recently made efforts to criminalize homosexual acts such as holding hands and kissing.
Human rights activists say the bill would further abuse a demographic that is already at risk of physical and verbal abuse. The bill, some say, is an attack on all of humanity.
“This is an insidious bill that appears to be limited to same-gender marriage, but is actually an attack on basic rights,” Human Rights Watch spokesperson Graeme Reid, told the UN publication, IRIN.
“The definition of ‘same-gender marriage’ is so broad as to include anyone even suspected of being in a same-sex relationship. And it threatens human rights defenders by targeting people who support unpopular causes,” Reid said.
Opponents say a ban on marriage should be one of Nigeria’s lowest priorities. Among other issues, Nigeria faces an AIDS epidemic, of which the marriage bill may affect the treatment and perception.
“Same sex marriage may be a current demand in the United States, or in the U.K. where I now live, but it isn't in Nigeria,” the Rev. Ijeoma Ajibade wrote in the Huffington Post. “Nigerian LGBT people have never asked for marriage, what they have asked for is respect and acknowledgment of their fundamental human rights and I believe that they should be listened to.”
“They too are made in the image of God,” Ajibade continued. “They too are human and should be allowed to live without fear of death, harassment or discrimination.”
The bill will be voted on in the coming weeks.