May 30, 2013 – Nigeria Bans Marriage Equality
A month ago, Nigerian prosecutors charged 53 people for allegedly witnessing a same-sex marriage. Having anything to do with Marriage Equality is punishable by 10 years in prison in the West African country, one of world’s most socially conservative democracies.
A police prosecutor in the northern state of Kaduna said that the citizens had “conspired to celebrate a gay marriage” at a motel, and that the two men who were to be married were on the run. The 53 accused were charged with conspiracy, unlawful assembly and belonging to an “unlawful society”.
Nigeria does not recognize same-sex marriages nor civil unions for same-sex couples. Being gay is punishable by 14 years in prison in Southern Nigeria and is punishable by death by stoning for men in states under Sharia Law. Anyone who witnesses a same-sex marriage can be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On this day in 2013, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act which not only criminalizes same-sex marriages, but also outlaws gay clubs, societies and organizations and bans the public showing of affection between two men.
Most Western Governments, including the Britain and USA, condemned the law when it was passed. Secretary Of State John Kerry said that the law was “inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations”, while the British High Commission said it “infringes upon fundamental rights of expression and association.”
A 2016 report by Human Rights Watch found that incidents of mob violence against purported LGBTQ people increased after the law was passed, and that the Nigerian police are arbitrarily arresting and extorting people they accuse of being gay.
Despite the outrage by Human Rights groups, the law is supported by 98 percent of Nigerians.
The law also calls for five years in prison for public advocacy or involvement in associations supporting the rights of LGBTQ people. There is even a fine for having any sort of relationship with a LGBTQ person. It basically bans anything remotely associated with the term “gay”.
While the law centers on gay men, lesbian and bisexual women fear being “guilty by association” and they avoid associating with other LGBTQ people, increasing their isolation, compelling many of them to marry a man, have children, and conform to socially proscribed gender norms.
When American photographer Eric Shoen married Nigerian David Ukre in a beautiful outdoor ceremony in Rochester, NY last summer, they had to request that guests not post comments or photographs on social media. But within hours, pictures and stories were on dozens of websites. Ukre’s family in the Christian part of Nigeria were harassed by their community. He hadn’t told his family about getting married. They were not even aware he was gay. Ukre’s groomsmen were also from Nigeria. Their families are in danger. By the next day, their wedding story was on 150 sites. Comments on the sites threatened the lives of the couple, their friends and families in Nigeria. I read some of them and the hate is frightening.
The Anti-Marriage Equality laws have an especially chilling effect in Nigeria because the country has the world’s third-highest population of people with AIDS; four million are infected with HIV, and the vast majority are straight.
In 2001 in The Netherlands became the first country to have full legal marriage Equality. As of this week, the following countries allow people of the same-sex to be married: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, The UK, Uruguay and The United States Of America. South Africa is the only African country where same-sex marriage is recognized.