No To Gays And Lesbians

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Just like the Senate had done, the House of Representatives throws its support behind the prohibition of homosexuality and lesbianism

“Same sex is alien to our society and culture and it must not be imported. Our religions abhor it and our culture has no place for it.” This was the conclusion of the House of Representatives, as it resolved to pass a bill that will outlaw same-sex relationships and further stiffen the penalties for default.

Legislating against same-sex relationships has been a delicate issue in many countries of the world, with the US, UK and human rights groups threatening to sanction countries that are determined to outlaw the practice, which they believe is a violation of fundamental rights. According to them, the new law will violate the freedoms of expression, association and assembly guaranteed by international law as well as by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Last Tuesday, the House unanimously passed the bill for second reading,  a sequel to what the Senate did about a year ago. In the bill passed by the Senate, same-sex marriage was completely banned while a penalty of 14 years imprisonment was prescribed for violators. The recent decision by the House is a step away from a final ratification and passage of the bill, following which a harmonised copy will be sent to President Goodluck Jonathan for assent before effectively coming into force. When finally passed into law, the bill will strengthen the existing legislation, which already outlaws same-sex relationships by making it criminal for anyone who witnesses or assists such marriages, or public displays of affection by people of same sex a culpable offence.

Under the new law, groups that support gay rights will also be banned. Same-sex marriage is a taboo in most African cultures. The extant penal code prohibit same-sex marriages or affairs. Homosexuality result in a jail term of up to 14 years in the southern part of the country and capital punishment for men in areas under Sharia Islamic Law.

In leading the debate, the House Leader, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, said: “This practice has no place in our culture, religion or anywhere in Africa. It is immorality and debasement of our culture, we condemn it in totality.”  House Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila contended that “the bill represents a convergence of both law and morality.”

“ This issue (same-sex marriage) is both illegal and immoral. In this marriage, the third party is affected. These people go ahead and adopt children, thereby affecting the child, and in the process, the child becomes dysfunctional,” he said.

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Lending her voice, Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje argued that the bill presents “a competition between religious principles and international convention, which Nigeria is a signatory to”. Elendu-Ukeje maintained that marriage between persons of the same sex “diminishes the symbol of what we are and procreation”.

The bill was the first non-executive bill to be discussed by the Senate. It was first read at the Senate on 13 July last year. According to the sponsor, Domingo Obende, there is a need to act fast to stop the trend from taking root in the country. “The Muslim religion forbids it. Christianity forbids it and the African traditional religion forbids it. It should not be allowed because it will lead to a breakdown of the society,” he said.

In April, a lawyer, Robert Igbinedion, approached the Federal High Court in Lagos to challenge the Senate’s passage of the Same-Sex Prohibition Bill on behalf of the “sexual minorities” and prayed for an order for the enforcement of fundamental rights to private and family life, freedom from discrimination and human dignity. The suit, which joined the President and the Attorney-General of the Federation as co-defendants, also sought to ensure that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender, LGBT, are not penalised. “All over Nigeria, the accepted norm now is as long as the majority is happy, the minority can go to hell… and that is the direction we are running into at jet speed. That is not a direction a government should go. The essence for which government is established is to protect the minority,” he told an online news portal.

Igbinedion vowed to take his case as far as the United Nations, UN. LGBTs elsewhere have already taken their case to the UN. According to a report by Empowered Newswire, the UN condemned the bill passed by the Nigerian Senate at a discussion held to commemorate its Human Rights Day last year.

According to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, whose message was read at the event by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, “homophobic bullying of young people constitutes a grave violation of human rights,” adding that government would take the necessary measures to protect their citizens from violence and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Ki-moon stated that there are currently 76 countries where individuals face criminal sanctions for engaging in private consensual sexual relations with another adult of the same sex. Šimonovic stated that the UN has been working to establish dialogue with these States to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and that while several countries have made remarkable progress, there is still much to be done. “Gradually, states are coming to see that the commitments to eliminate discrimination enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in our core United Nations human rights treaties apply to everyone, not just heterosexuals but gays and lesbians and bisexual, transgender and intersex people too,” Empowered Newswire quoted Šimonovic as saying.

—Desmond Utomwen, Abuja/TheNEWS magazine