Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan confirmed on Monday that he signed a controversial anti-gay bill into law, despite international condemnation. The new law criminalizes anyone who enters into a same-sex union or marriage with a penalty of up to 14 years in jail. The law goes much further than just a marriage ban, however, as participation in gay advocacy groups, along with public displays of same-sex affection, is also punishable with up to 10 years in prison.
Same-sex intercourse for both men and women is already illegal in the country, but the new law will effectively allow the government to jail anyone woking for LGBT rights in the country The more restrictive law signed today passed through the country's legislature previously, but Jonathan held off on signing it. Although the bill will probably be popular among many Nigerians, it is less popular with the West. Some countries, like Britain, have threatened to cut aid if the bill becomes law.
Before it became law, Amnesty International condemned the measure, saying it would make Nigeria one of the world's "least tolerant societies." In a way, Nigeria already is. A 2007 Pew poll found that 97 percent of Nigerians believe society should "reject" homosexuality, the second-highest rejection rate of any country surveyed. In defense of his decision to sign the bill, Jonathan's spokesperson said that "more than 90 percent of Nigerians are opposed to same sex marriage. So, the law is in line with our cultural and religious beliefs as a people." He added, "this law is made for a people and what (the) government has done is consistent with the preference of its environment."
LGBT individuals living in Nigeria face societally-sanctioned harassment, and often attempt to keep their identities private. In 2008, the local papers Nation, Vanguard, PM News and the Sunday Sun all published photos, names, and addresses for members of the LGBT-friendly Rainbow Metropolitan Community Church. Church members were threatened, harassed, beaten, and stoned, while one woman was attacked by a group of nearly a dozen men. Nigerians living with HIV and AIDS also face public discrimination. The country's population overall is very religious, divided almost equally between adherents to Christianity and to Islam.
As it turns out, Nigeria's new law is not the most restrictive anti-LGBT measure to emerge in recent months. In December, Uganda's parliament passed an American activist-inspired bill that would criminalize homosexuality with life imprisonment. That bill is awaiting the signature of President Yoweri Museveni in order to become law.