Nigeria one step away from banning gay marriage

President yet to sign bill that would jail same-sex couples for up to 14 years amid pressure from UK and US over foreign aid

Nigeria has passed a bill banning gay marriage, outlawing organisations supporting gay rights and setting prison terms of up to 14 years for offenders.

The bill, passed by Nigeria’s House of Representatives will now go to the president, Goodluck Jonathan, to be signed into law. Whether he will approve it remains unclear, as both the US and the UK said the move could jeopardise foreign funding for Aids and HIV outreach programs.

Nigeria’s Senate passed the bill in November 2011, but it did not emerge in the house until Thursday. Under previous versions of the bill, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be jailed for 10 years.

The bill also makes it illegal to register gay clubs or organisations criminalises the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly”. Those who violate these aspects would face 10 years in jail.

While the house’s version of the bill appeared to be similar, a copy of the version that was passed was not immediately available. If there are differences between the house and Senate versions, a joint committee will be set up to iron out these discrepancies before sending it to the president.

Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria since colonial rule by the British. Gay people face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who near-uniformly oppose homosexuality. Many other African countries have made homosexuality punishable by jail sentences.

Nigeria’s proposed law has drawn the interest of EU 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 US.

The measure could affect HIV and Aids outreach programs funding by USAid, an arm of the US government. Nigeria has the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV and Aids.

by AP in Abuja,
Source – The Guardian