(GIN) – Joining a movement fueled by a segment of conservative American evangelicals, the Nigerian Senate approved this week a bill criminalizing gay marriage, gay support groups and same-sex public displays of affection.
It was the latest attack on a minority already facing discrimination in Africa’s most populous nation.
The Senate increased the penalty for gay marriage from five years’ imprisonment proposed in a draft bill to 14 years. The bill must be passed by Nigeria’s House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before becoming law.
“Such elements in society should be killed,” said Sen. Baba-Ahmed Yusuf Datti of the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change, drawing murmurs of support from the gallery.
Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, since colonial rule by the British. In some areas of Nigeria’s north where Islamic Shariah law is enforced, gays face death by stoning.
The bill’s penalties were debated this week at the National Assembly before a television audience to the occasional sound of laughter, sources said.
One senator worried the bill would hinder the tradition of Nigeria’s Igbo ethnic group in the southeast to have infertile wives “marry” other women to carry their husbands’ children. Another said gays suffer from a “mental illness.”
The Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights in Nigeria, in an open letter to President Goodluck Johnson, urged him to guarantee the safety of all human rights defenders including gays.
“We could not help but notice from the outcome of the public hearing on the Same Gender marriage Bill, 2011 that committee members had already taken a position on the subject. That was evident from their deliberate name calling and profiling of the groups or individuals opposed to the Bill.
“The experience has been denigrating and humiliating and does not conform to democratic principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, prohibition of discrimination, and fair hearing,” the group wrote.
Meanwhile, in Uganda, a court this month sentenced the killer of noted gay activist David Kato to 30 years behind bars. Kato’s slaying came only months after his picture was published in an anti-gay newspaper next to the words “Hang Them.”
Rights activists blame an increase in homophobia in Uganda on evangelical preachers. Val Kalende of Freedom and Roam Uganda, defending gay rights, said: “David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S Evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan Government and the so-called U.S Evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood!”