Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan recently signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law, worsening the situation for LGBTQ persons in Nigeria. World leaders and human rights activists have expressed outrage at the anti-gay law, which mandates prison time for same-sex relations and outlaws patronage of gay organizations and clubs.
In a January 13th press statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote that the U.S. is "deeply concerned" about Nigeria's new anti-gay law.
"Beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf also criticized the law as an affront to basic freedoms, according to the Washington Blade. “We just don’t support any legislation that institutionalizes discrimination against one select group of people, and I think one of the key reasons we are opposed to this is that the law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage,” she said. “It restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians.”
Moreover, it is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 Constitution.
People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality. No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love.
We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights."
Other global voices have criticized the law's attack on fundamental rights as well. Pink News reports that the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office has blasted the Nigerian law. Canada has cancelled President Goodluck Jonathan's state visit, according to Pink News. Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, forcefully condemned the Nigerian law. “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights," she said, according to UN News Centre. “Rights to privacy and non-discrimination, rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention: this law undermines all of them.”
“It turns anyone who takes part in, witnesses or helps organize a same sex marriage into a criminal. It punishes people for displaying any affection in public towards someone of the same sex. And in banning gay organizations it puts at risk the vital work of human rights defenders who speak up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.”Global health organizations lament that the law will have a devastating impact on public health in Nigeria. In a January 14th press statement, UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria warned that the law could obstruct access to HIV services by criminalizing organizations that serve LGBTQ populations.
"The provisions of the law could lead to increased homophobia, discrimination, denial of HIV services and violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. It could also be used against organizations working to provide HIV prevention and treatment services to LGBT people ... UNAIDS and the Global Fund call for an urgent review of the constitutionality of the law in light of the serious public health and human rights implications and urge Nigeria to put comprehensive measures in place to protect the ongoing delivery of HIV services to LGBT people in Nigeria without fear of arrest or other reprisals. UNAIDS and the Global Fund will continue to work with the Nigerian authorities and civil society organizations to ensure safe access to HIV services for all people in Nigeria."Human rights activists also expressed alarm at developments in Nigeria. In an open letter to John Kerry, Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin urged the Secretary of State to take action regarding Nigeria's new anti-gay law including LGBTQ refugee processing at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, reevaluation of Nigeria's aid status, and suspension of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Nigeria.
Human Rights Watch called the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill a "sweeping and dangerous piece of legislation". Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director of Human Rights Watch, argued that the law “undermines basic universal freedoms that Nigerians have long fought to defend and is a throwback to past decades under military rule when civil rights were treated with contempt.” Reid added that the law is so ambiguous that it will likely result in arbitrary arrests, extortion, and blackmail of vulnerable people.
Amnesty International demanded that Nigerian authorities release those arrested under the new law. Makmid Kamara, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher, called the new law "draconian", adding that reports of police compiling lists of gay people to arrest "extremely worrying". “The deeply repressive Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act must be withdrawn without delay. With the stroke of a pen, President Goodluck Jonathan has essentially turned Nigeria into one of the world’s least tolerant societies," Kamara said.
Will Nigerian leaders take international outrage seriously and move to repeal the law, or will the law stay in place and exacerbate to an already ugly situation for LGBTQ Nigerians? Will Nigeria acknowledge that the law is an affront to fundamental human rights and public health, or ignore its impact in the name of homophobia? The world will be watching Nigeria closely.