By Jim Burroway
The West African country whose over-reaching attempt in 2009 to impose severe penalties on human rights advocacy and free association for its LGBT citizens under the guise of “banning” same sex marriage was met with international alarm from human rights activists, is at it again. The Nigerian Senate debated a bill yesterday which would make entering into a same-sex marriage a criminal offense, with three years’ imprisonment for couples convicted of being married, and five years’ imprisonment for anyone who “witnesses, abets and aides” the solemnization of the marriage. Homosexuality is already a criminal offense in Nigeria, where it carries a penalty of fourteen years imprisonment in the south and capital punishment in areas in the north which are under Sharia Islamic Law. Nigeria’s The Daily Times reports that the bill passed it first reading on July 13, and that no Senators rose to oppose the bill during Tuesday’s debate.
It is unknown at this time what the exact provisions under the new law would be [see below for more]. The proposed 2009 law which ostensibly banned same-sex marriage went much further than simply addressing same sex marriage. The 2009 proposal, like its current incarnation, provided for a prison sentence of three years for anyone who has “entered into a same gender marriage contract,” and it also would have defined same-sex marriage as any gay couples found living together. Also like the new proposal, it also provided for five years’ imprisonment or a fine for anyone who “witnesses, abet and aids the solemnization” of a same-sex marriage. But the 2009 law also went much further, by making criminals of anyone working in organizations which advocate for gay rights. LGBT advocates point pointed out that the proposed bill law would punish those who “aids and abets” people to live together with a tougher sentence than the couple concerned.
It is unknown at this time what, if any, additional provisions are included in the current proposal.
Spokesperson for the Nigerian Senate expect the bill to pass by the end of next year. The United States State Department have joined international human rights groups in strongly condemning the bill, pointing out that it would the freedoms of expression, association and assembly guaranteed by international law as well as by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The law would also impose an impediment to the struggle against the spread of AIDS in the oil-producing west African nation.
A BTB reader found a copy of Nigeria’s latest proposal to not just ban same-sex marriage (it’s already illegal in Nigeria), but to impose criminal penalties on anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage — as well as for anyone who “witnesses, abets and aids the solemnization of a same gender marriage contract.” The penalty for entering into a same-sex marriage under the proposed measure would be three years’ imprisonment. The penalty for witnessing/aiding/abeting a marriage would bring five years imprisonment or a fine of ₦2,000 (2,000 naria, or US$13 in a country where the average annual income is US$1,200). If a group of persons witness/aid/abet a marriage, the fine is ₦50,000. It’s unclear whether two people at a wedding would be considered two individuals or a group. The bill also does not define what constitutes witnessing, abetting or aiding in the solemnization of a marriage.
This bill is a considerably scaled down from an earlier bill that was being considered as late as 2009. The earlier proposal, which was actually introduced in 2006, included the same penalties that this bill provides for entering into a marriage or for witnessing/aiding/abeting a marriage. But the 2006 bill went much further by prohibiting the formation of any gay clubs, societies or advocacy groups, and anyone working in organizations which advocate for gay rights would have been subject to five years imprisonment. The same penalty also applied for anyone who was involved with the “publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private.”
Following international condemnation from international human rights advocates, Nigeria’s National Assembly quietly allowed the bill to lapse upon the change of government earlier this year.
Homosexuality is already criminalized in Nigeria, with a penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment upon conviction. In areas where Sharia Law are in effect, the penalty is death.
The newest bill was posted at the official web site of the Nigerian Senate and is available here (PDF: 48KB/2 pages) It is dated July 25, 2011, nearly two weeks after the bill reportedly received its first reading in the Senate. The original 2006 proposal is available here (PDF: 144KB/3 pages).
Here is the full text of the 2011 bill:
A BILLFORAn Act To Prohibit Marriage Between Persons Of Same Gender, Solemnization Of Same And For Other Matters Related Therewith
Senator Domingo Obende
Senator Ehigie Edobor Uzamere
Senator Adegbenga Seflu Kaka
Senator Borrofice Robert A.
Senator Pius Ewherido
Senator Yusuf Musa Nagogo
Senator Mohammed Magoro
Senator Emmanuel Paulker
Senator George Sekibo
Senator Eyinnaya Abarbe
Senator Nenadi E. Usman
Senator Helen Esuene
Senator Babafemi Oiudu
Senator Owremi Tinubu
Senator Owgbenga Ashafa
Senator Obadara Owgbenga
Senator Joshua Dariye
Senator Saleh Mohammed Sani
Senator Hope Uzodinma
Senator Ayogu Eze
Senator Smart Adeyemi
Senator Ahmad Lawan
Senator Igwe Paulinus Nwagu
Senator Mohammed D. Goje
Senator Barnabas Gemade
Senator Boluwaji Kunlere
BE IT ENACTED by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as follows:
1.–(1) Marriage Contract entered between persons of same Gender is hereby prohibited in Nigeria.
(2) Marriages Contract entered between persons of same gender are invalid and shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.
(3) Marriage Contract entered between persons of same gender by virtue a certificate issued by a foreign country shall be void in Nigeria, and any benefits accruing there from by virtue of the certificate shall not be enforced by any court of law in Nigeria.
2.–(1) Marriage entered between persons of same Gender shall not be solemnized in any place of worship either Church or Mosque in Nigeria.
(2) No marriage certificate issued to parties of same sex marriage in Nigeria.
3. Only marriage contracted between a man and a woman either under Islamic Law, Customary Law and Marriage Act is recognized as valid in Nigeria.
4.–(1) Persons that entered into a same gender marriage contract commit an offence and are jointly liable on conviction to a term of 3 years imprisonment each.
(2) Any persons or group of persons that witnesses, abet and aids the solemnization of a same gender marriage contract commits an offence and liable on conviction to –
(a) if an individual to a term of 5 years imprisonment or a group of persons to a fine of ₦2,000 or both,(b) if a group of persons to a fine of ₦50,000 only.5. The High Court of a State shall have jurisdiction to entertain matter arising from the breach of the provisions of this Bill.
6. In this Bill, unless the context otherwise requires–
“Marriage” here relates to a legal union entered between persons of opposite sex in accordance with the Marriage Act, Islamic and Customary Laws.
“High Court” to include High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
“Same Gender Marriage” means the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of leaving together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship.
7. This Bill may be cited as Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2011.
This Bill seeks to prohibit marriage between persons of same gender, and witnessing same, and provided appropriate solemnization of the marriage penalties thereof.