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Nigeria: Senate Adopts Bill Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage

(Nov. 30, 2011) On November 29, 2011, the upper house of Nigeria's National Assembly adopted the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, a proposal that aims to criminalize same-sex marriage. (Ademola Adebayo, Senate Outlaws Same Sex Marriage … Offenders to Get up to 14-Year Jail Term, DAILY TRUST (Nov. 29, 2011).) To take effect, the bill will need the concurrence of the 360-member House of Representatives and presidential assent. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, § 58, International Center for Nigerian Law (ICNL) website.)

The bill puts the penalty for same-sex marriage on a par with the penalties for a homosexual act. A homosexual act is a felony punishable on conviction by 14 years of imprisonment, under the Federal Criminal Code Act. (Criminal Code Act, § 214, 4 LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA [LFN], Cap. C38 [rev. ed. 2006], available at ICNL website [Note: the online text of the Code is from the 1990 edition of the LFN, but the text of the article is the same].)

The initial draft of the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill sought to impose relatively lower sentences for violations of its provisions; persons who entered into same-sex marriages were subject, under its provisions, to a penalty of three years in prison, and accessories to the crime were subject to five years in prison and/or a fine. (Hanibal Goitom, Nigeria: Senate Considering Legislation to Criminalize Same-Sex Marriage, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 4, 2011).) However, the version that the Senate ended up adopting appears to have dramatically increased the penalty for same-sex marriage to 14 years in prison for the parties to the marriage and 10 years in prison for accessories. (Adebayo, supra.)

During a public hearing on the bill leading up to its adoption, David Mark, president of the Nigerian Senate, had this to say about same-sex marriage:

[M]y faith as [a] Christian abhors it. It is incomprehensible to contemplate on [sic] same sex marriage. I cannot understand it. I cannot be a party to it. There are enough men and women to marry each other. The whole idea is the importation of foreign culture but this one would be a freedom too many. We cannot allow our tradition and value system [to be] eroded (id.).

The Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill is not a new proposal. It has been sent to the floor of the National Assembly twice before; it was initially proposed in 2006, but the measure failed when the term of the National Assembly ended in April 2007, and again in 2007, when it again expired with the end of the term of the National Assembly in April 2011. (Goitom, supra.) If the current bill does not secure the House of Representatives' approval and a presidential assent before April 2015, when the term of the current National Assembly expires, it will fail for the third time. (Id.)