On Monday it was announced that Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill that criminalizes “amorous relationships” between same-sex couples, setting the stage for civil rights movement protests.
“Persons who enter into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of up to 14 years in prison,” the law says.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, bans membership of gay rights groups, clubs and societies, and was passed by parliament last May but the president delayed signing it into law until Jan. 7 of this year.
Existing Nigerian federal laws already bans sodomy but the new law presents a much broader crackdown on lesbian and gay activities. Even before passing of the law, same-sex relationships were mainly underground because of the prevalence of anti-gay sentiment and persecution of homosexuals in much of sub-Saharan Africa.
Many see President Jonathan’s move as largely political. The law is considered popular in Nigeria given the cultural and religious inclinations of its citizens. The enactment of the law is also likely to help President Jonathan win re-election in 2015. Some Nigerians have criticized the president and questioned his priorities.
Some analysts view this as an anti-West move as some European and North American countries are largely tolerant of same-sex relationships. Recently, France offered same-sex couples the same rights enjoyed by heterosexuals and President Barrack Obama has in the recent past traversed the African continent urging for gay tolerance.
Now, Britain and other western countries threatened to cut foreign aid to countries such as Uganda and Malawi that have passed similar legislation. However, they will have little impact over Nigeria because the country’s budget is mostly funded by its oil.
Local and international groups that fight AIDS and Tuberculosis have warned that the move will jeopardize the fight against AIDS because access to HIV services for gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people will be severely affected.
United States, Canada and Britain have condemned the new law and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says it “dangerously restricts freedom of all Nigerians.”
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