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Nigeria considering banning homosexuality

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November/2/2011 by Erica Demarest

For the third time in five years, the Nigerian government is deliberating a law that would criminalize same-sex marriage in the country.

Proposed in July 2011 and currently up for debate in the Nigerian Senate, the legislation would penalize anyone who witnesses or enters into a same-sex marriage. Punishments include hefty fines or three to five years in prison.

''Opening the legal door to same-sex marriage in Nigeria will be morally and ideologically unsound when other traditionally shunned intuitions [such] as incest remain illegal," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Domingo Alaba Obende, told the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard.

Proponents of the controversial legislation claim it will protect Nigeria's moral, religious and family traditions. Those opposed argue it will continue Nigeria's longstanding history of human rights violations against LGBT citizens.

It is already illegal to engage in same-sex sexual activity in Nigeria. If caught, citizens could face to up to 14 years in prison, or in extreme cases, the death penalty.

"Nigeria is a country that is very naïve when it comes to sexuality," said John Adewoye, a Chicago-based activist who founded Courage Nigeria to combat anti-LGBT sentiment in his home country. "Anyone with common sense can open their eyes and see being gay is not shameful. It's human nature."

A former Catholic priest who sought asylum in the United States, Adewoye said he fled Nigeria because of persecution he experienced as an out gay man and political activist. He currently works as a chaplain at the University of Chicago.

"I was not content with myself," he said. "What do you tell people? They look at you... I did not choose to be gay. I did not choose to be born gay. This is how I find myself, and it's a struggle."

There's still a lot of shame associated with homosexuality in Nigeria, Adewoye said. He worries that LGBT people and allies in the country will not mobilize effectively, too paralyzed by fear of being publicly outed or ostracized to act. Adewoye hopes to organize a protest at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., in coming weeks.

He charged that Nigerian leaders are guilty of scaremongering. "The reasons these people are giving are crazy," Adewoye said. "They're not even logical."

In a Sept. interview with Vanguard, Obende said: "With the legalization of same sex marriage, every school in Nigeria would be required to teach that this perversion is the moral equivalent of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Textbooks would have to depict [homosexual relationships], and stories written for children as young as kindergarten would have to give equal space to homosexuals."

There are no precedents that would support this claim.

A public hearing on the bill took place Oct. 31. Similar laws were proposed in 2006 and 2008 to no avail. - Nigerian news, and news on, naija, Nigeria, West Africa

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