Nigerian human rights groups and gay activists are outraged by a bid to introduce legislation which would criminalise gay marriage, claiming it would violate their fundamental rights.
Homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria and even carries the death penalty in the 12 northern Muslim states which impose Sharia law. But lawmakers are considering a bid to expressly outlaw marriage between same sex couples.
AdvertisementQueer Alliance, a group of young lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender Nigerians urged the legislators to set aside the bill which prescribes a three-year jail sentence for entering into a same-sex marriage.
Punishment for "any persons or group of persons that witness, abet and aids the solemnisation of a same gender marriage contract" is an even harsher five-year jail term.
"We ask that the lawmakers work with us to understand the concept of sexuality and sexual orientation through our experiences and not create laws that will punish us needlessly," Queer Alliance's Rashidi Williams told parliamentarians during a public hearing on the bill on Wednesday.
Women's rights group BAOBAB said the bill will be "tantamount to denial of a minority their fundamental rights to freedom from discrimination, freedom of association, freedom of religion and freedom of private and family life."
While homosexuality is illegal, authorities are seeking to outlaw gay marriage after a number of suspected cases came to light.
Two years ago a group of 14 men were arrested in Muslim Bauchi state for taking part in a gay marriage. Police raided a hotel where the wedding was taking place and couple fled.
Police charged the wedding guests, dressed in female clothes, with indecent dressing. They were released on bail and the case is still pending.
In 2001 in nearby Kano state, police raided a hotel, stopped a gay marriage and dispersed all in attendance, but no arrests were made.
Rights groups say the law will criminalise any activities related to homosexuals including human rights defending and advocacy for equal rights for all individuals or communities.
The Sexual Minorities Against AIDS in Nigeria (SMAAN) said the bill was likely to increase vulnerability of gays and lesbians to HIV infection as they will shy away from or be kept out of vital health services.
"Faced with legal or social sanctions, individuals who engage in same-sex sex are either excluded from, or exclude themselves from, accessing sexual health information and services because they fear stigma, discimination and criminal prosecution," SMAAN said in its submission to the lawmakers.
New York-based Human Rights Watch and Global Rights also urged Nigerian deputies to reject the proposed legislation.
The Anglican Church of Nigeria has given the bill its full backing.
The Church said allowing gay marriages in Nigeria will be unconstitutional "should we use places made for the solemnisation of a union between a man and a woman for that of people of the same gender."
"Same sex marriage, apart from being ungodly, is also unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, uncultural, un-African and un-Nigerian," the Church said.
South Africa became the first African country to approve gay marriage in November 2006. However, homosexuality is largely taboo across the continent.
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