LAGOS, Nigeria – A new law in Nigeria, signed by the president without announcement, has made it illegal for gay people to even hold a meeting. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act also criminalizes homosexual clubs, associations and organizations, with penalties of up to 14 years in jail.
The act has drawn international condemnation from countries such as the United States and Britain.
Some Nigerian gays already have fled the country because of intolerance of their sexual preferences, and more are considering leaving if the new law is enforced, human rights activist Olumide Makanjuola said recently.
Nigeria’s law is not as draconian as a Ugandan bill passed by parliament last month which would punish “aggravated” homosexual acts with life in prison. It awaits the president’s signature.
But Nigeria’s law reflects a highly religious and conservative society that considers homosexuality a deviation. Nigeria is one of 38 African countries – about 70 percent of the continent – that have laws persecuting gay people, according to Amnesty International.
The Associated Press on Monday obtained a copy of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan and dated Jan. 7.
It was unclear why the law’s passage has been shrouded in secrecy. The copy obtained from the House of Representatives in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, showed it was signed by lawmakers and senators unanimously Dec. 17, though no announcement was made.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the United States is “deeply concerned” by a law that “dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians.”
The British government last year threatened to cut aid to African countries that violate the rights of gay citizens. However, British aid remains small in oil-rich Nigeria, one of the top crude suppliers to the U.S.
Washington-based Human Rights First urged President Barack Obama to “consider all avenues for response,” saying leaders such as Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, will be watching.
The motivation for the Nigerian law is unclear, given that the country already has one making homosexual sex illegal. And gay people were not demanding to be married in a country where being gay can get a person lynched by a mob. In parts of northern Nigeria where Islamic Shariah law is enforced, gays and lesbians can be legally stoned to death.
Some have suggested the new law in Nigeria and the proposed one in Uganda are a backlash to Western pressure to decriminalize homosexuality.
Under Nigeria’s new law, it is now a crime to have a meeting of gays, to operate or go to a gay club, society or organization, or make any public show of affection.