Lawmakers in Nigeria passed a bill Thursday banning gay marriage and outlawing anyone from forming organizations supporting gay rights, setting prison terms of up to 14 years for offenders.
Nigeria’s House of Representatives approved the bill in a voice vote, likely sending it immediately to President Goodluck Jonathan for him to potentially sign into law in Africa’s most populous nation. Whether he will approve it remains unclear, and both the United States and the United Kingdom raised concerns over a measure that could put foreign funding for AIDS and HIV outreach programs in jeopardy.
Nigeria’s Senate previously passed the bill in November 2011 and the measure quietly disappeared for some time before coming up in Thursday’s session of the House. Under previous versions of the proposed law, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, as well as criminalizing the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” Those who violate those laws would face 10-year imprisonment as well.
While the bill read Thursday during the House session appeared to be similar, a copy of the version the lawmakers passed could not immediately be obtained. If there are differences between the House and Senate versions, a joint committee of lawmakers will have to first iron out those differences before sending it to the president.
Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, since colonial rule by the British. Gays face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality. Across the African continent, many countries already have made homosexuality punishable by jail sentences.
Nigeria’s proposed law has drawn the interest of European Union countries, some of which already offer Nigeria’s sexual minorities asylum based on gender identity. The British government recently threatened to cut aid to African countries that violate the rights of gay and lesbian citizens. However, British aid remains quite small in oil-rich Nigeria, one of the top crude suppliers to the U.S.
A spokesman for the British High Commission in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The measure also could affect HIV and AIDS outreach programs funding by USAID, an arm of the U.S. government. Nigeria has the world’s third-largest population of people living with HIV and AIDS. A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy could not be immediately reached.
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