Opposing anti-gay legislation in Nigeria

Recently I met with a government delegation from Nigeria. During an evening dinner with the group, their leader suddenly went on a rant against gays. I was nonplussed and was mentally debating whether it was appropriate to push back against this since I had been invited as a guest and did not want to jeopardize any agreements that my host was negotiating with the Nigerian government. On the other hand, I feel it is wrong to let such statements go unchallenged because silence can be construed as agreement. Much to my relief, my host herself stepped in and said that she disagreed with the sentiments that had been expressed.

So I too joined in and we challenged the anti-gay views of the leader and this led to a spirited but cordial exchange of views. During it, the leader also expressed the view that her religion (they were all Christians) was what provided her with her moral views and that without religion we were morally bereft. At that point, feeling that there was nothing further to be lost, I said that I was an atheist and that religion was not necessary for morality, which clearly did not endear me further to the leader.

All in all, it was an interesting discussion but such openly anti-gay hostility by an official government spokeswoman was disturbing in terms of what is revealed about the state of anti-gay sentiment in that country. So it did not surprise me to learn that both houses of Nigeria’s parliament have recently passed legislation imposing harsh punishments of gay people and those who aid them.

The bill stipulates a 14 years jail term for same-sex marriage and 10 years imprisonment for public show of same-sex affection. The approved bill also stipulates a 10 year imprisonment for anyone who abets a gay person, witnesses a same sex marriage or advocates for LGBT rights.

The only step remaining for it to become law is for the president Goodluck Jonathan to sign it. Fellow FtB blogger Yemisi Ilesanmi, who is of Nigerian origin, has been following the case and urges people to sign a petition asking the president to not sign the bill.

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