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Nigeria: Bill Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage Moves Forward

(Dec. 26, 2013) On December 17, 2013, the Nigerian Senate unanimously adopted a Conference Committee report on the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2011, bringing the bill one step closer to enactment. (Senate Passes Harmonised Report on Same Sex Marriage Bill, THIS DAY LIVE (Dec. 18, 2013).) Aimed at criminalizing same-sex marriages and civil unions, this legislation was first passed by the Senate in November 2011 and by the House of Representatives in July 2013; because the versions of the bill that came out of the two houses were not identical, a conference committee was formed to harmonize them. (Turaki A. Hassan, N/Assembly Criminalises Same-Sex Marriage, DAILY TRUST (Dec. 18, 2013).) The legislation will be enacted into law if signed by President Goodluck Jonathan. (<!–?Id.)

The legislation prohibits the legal recognition of all same-sex marriages or civil unions. It provides that marriages or civil unions contracted between same-sex persons in Nigeria are invalid and not eligible for any form of benefits extended to valid marriages. (Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2011, § 1, BOX TURTLE BULLETIN.) The legislation also provides that same-sex marriages contracted abroad are void in Nigeria. (Id.) The ban on recognition of same-sex marriages is applicable across all three forms of marriage (Islamic, customary, and civil marriage) recognized in Nigeria. (Id. § 2.)

The legislation also outlaws amorous gay relationships, gay establishments, and all other forms of gay organizations. It bans registration of “gay clubs, societies and organisations, their sustenance, processions and meetings.” (Id. § 4.) It criminalizes activities involving these types of businesses or organizations, including providing assistance for their founding or using their services. (Id. § 5.) The legislation also bans the “public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly.” (Id. § 4.) A violation of any of these bans is a crime, which on conviction is punishable by 10 years of imprisonment. (Id. § 5.)

The legislation goes beyond denying the recognition of same-sex relationships and criminalizes the contracting of same sex marriages and civil unions. It makes entering into these types of contracts an offense, which on conviction is punishable by a 14-year term of imprisonment. (Id.) Aside from criminal liability of the parties to the marriage or civil union contract, any persons who participate in any capacity in establishing these relationships, including as witnesses, also commit an offense, which on conviction is punishable by 10 years of imprisonment. (Id.)

This legislation is not a new proposal; it had 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 was put forward again in 2007, when it again expired with the end of the term of the National Assembly in April 2011. (Hanibal Goitom, Nigeria: Senate Adopts Bill Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Nov. 30, 2011).)