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IN THE face of international criticism, Nigeria’s parliament has pressed ahead with its draconian ‘Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill’, a law with a penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment for gay, lesbian and bisexual people who marry or display affection.

When the bill was initially tabled in 2011, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird slammed the proposed law, saying that Nigeria should ensure equal basic rights for all its citizens.

At the October Commonwealth conference in Australia, Canada was part of a failed effort to persuade member states to rescind anti-gay laws.

Baird says Canada would keep trying, even though 41 of the group's 54 member countries have anti-gay laws. Referring to Nigeria, he said:

The government of Nigeria must protect all Nigerians, regardless of sexual orientation. Through the Commonwealth and other forums, Canada will continue to make this point in the most forceful of terms.

The bill adopted outlaws same-sex marriage in Nigeria, and punishes with 14 years of prison anyone who marries, or is married to, a person of the same sex. No exceptions are foreseen for foreign tourists, workers including aid workers, or diplomats.

The law will also punish with ten years’ imprisonment any public display of affection between two people of the same sex, or any involvement in running a gay bar or an NGO defending the human rights of LGBT people.

Commenting on this development secretary of the Pink Triangle Trust, George Broadhead, said:

This is shocking news. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals already face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality. In Nigeria’s north, where Islamic Sharia law has been enforced for about a decade, LGB people can face death by stoning.

It seems that there is a very real threat that this draconian bill will become law and, if it does, Nigeria will become the most homophobic nation in Africa. Even in South Africa, the one country where gays can marry, lesbians have been brutally attacked and murdered.

If the bill is enacted, the situation for LGB people in Nigeria will become completely untenable, setting a precedent that would threaten all Nigerians’ rights to privacy, equality, free expression and free association.

It is clear that the impetus for such legislation has come from religious sources. The Nigerian Humanist Movement (NHM), which has had financial support from the PTT, has been one of the few NGOs defending LGBT rights in the country. Its former executive director, Leo Igwe, deserves much credit for courageously speaking up for these rights in the country’s parliament.

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