ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) – Nigeria’s House of Representatives voted Thursday to ban gay marriage and outlaw any groups actively supporting gay rights, endorsing a measure that also calls for 10-year prison sentences for any “public show” of affection by a same-sex couple.
Representatives appeared to unanimously approve the proposal in a voice vote, sending it immediately to President Goodluck Jonathan for him to potentially sign into law in Africa’s most populous nation. It wasn’t immediately clear if Jonathan would sign the measure, though gays and lesbians already face public ridicule and possible prison sentences in Nigeria.
While Western diplomats declined to immediately comment, the United Kingdom already has threatened to stop aid to nations that discriminate against gays. But those threats appear unlikely to assuage the desire of Nigerian authorities to further criminalize homosexuality, part of a wave of such laws in African nations eager to legislate against what they believe is a challenge of their traditional values by the West.
Nigeria’s Senate previously passed the bill in November 2011 and the measure quietly disappeared for some time before coming up in Thursday’s session of the House. A copy of the House bill, obtained by The Associated Press, mirrored what the Senate previously passed.
Under the proposed law, Nigeria would ban any same-sex marriage from being conducted in either a church or a mosque. Gay or lesbian couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Anyone taking part in a group advocating for gay rights or anyone caught in a “public show” of affection also would face 10 years in prison if convicted by a criminal court.
In its voice vote, the House simply adopted all the clauses previously passed by the Senate without any discussion. The bill now sits before Jonathan for his approval or veto. Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night regarding the president’s position on the measure.
Chidi Odinkalu, the chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, said he only learned about the House’s vote late Thursday night. He said the bill, if passed into law, likely would be challenged in court.
“If that’s the scope, there will be serious issues,” Odinkalu said.
Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, since colonial rule by the British. Gays face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality.
Across the African continent, many countries already have made homosexuality punishable by jail sentences. Ugandan legislators introduced a bill that would impose the death penalty for some gays and lesbians, though it was amended in November to remove the threat of execution. Even in South Africa, the one country where gays can marry, lesbians have been brutally attacked and murdered in so-called “corrective rapes.”
Nigeria’s proposed law has drawn the interest of European Union countries, some of which already offer Nigeria’s sexual minorities asylum based on gender identity. The British government recently threatened to cut aid to African countries that violate the rights of gay and lesbian citizens. However, British aid remains quite small in oil-rich Nigeria, one of the top crude suppliers to the U.S.
Hooman Nouruzi, a spokesman for the British High Commission in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, said diplomats were examining the measure and declined to immediately comment.
In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a similar directive asking officials to “ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of” gays, lesbians and the transgendered. That included having diplomats “combat the criminalization” of being gay by foreign governments.
Melissa Ford, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, did not respond to a request for comment.
Beyond that, the proposed law could have an immediate direct effect on some groups sponsored by USAID, an arm of the U.S. government. Some funding it gives to groups to combat HIV and AIDS in Nigeria includes work with gays and lesbians – something that likely would be criminalized under the proposed law.
Nigeria has one of the world’s largest populations of people living with HIV and AIDS.