On March 11, 2009, the Nigerian National Assembly held a public hearing on the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, proposed in 2008. What captured most headlines was the demonstration by hundreds of young LGBT men and women organized by the Queer Alliance. Inside the hearing, a number of local rights groups, Human Rights Watch, Global Rights, and Amnesty International spoke against the bill, while religious groups, including the Anglican Church of Nigeria, spoke in its favor.
The proposed bill, which at this writing had yet to be put to a vote, seeks to broaden the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria, prohibiting not just same-sex marriage but any form of same-sex cohabitation in which parties “intend to live together as husband and wife.” Homosexual activity is already illegal, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and same-sex marriage is not legal under any of Nigeria’s legal systems: the Marriage Act, Islamic law, or customary law. However, the proposed bill adds prison sentences of three years for anyone attempting to enter a same-sex marriage and five years for anyone “aiding and abetting” a same-sex marriage.
Rights groups struck a fairly moderate tone in opposing the bill, criticizing the overly broad definition of same-sex marriage and its redundancy given Nigeria’s already-existing prohibitions on homosexual activity. The law seems to provide additional legal grounds for the harassment of the LGBT community and human rights groups. Moreover, speakers emphasized its inconsistency with Nigeria’s international human rights commitments as a signatory to the African Charter on Human Rights, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and as party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The debate echoes the reaction to a similar but broader bill proposed in 2006, which never went to a vote. Hopefully, this bill will meet the same fate. As 23-year-old Queer Alliance leader, Rashidi Williams, said during the demonstration, “It is already a trial to survive the hardship of our nation let alone the discrimination we face as sexual minorities.”