Nigeria’s parliament is currently pushing through a bill that would not only ban same-sex marriage in Africa’s most populous nation but would also impose up to 14-year prison sentences to any same-sex couples who cohabitate. Moreover, those who are aware of a same-sex relationship and don’t report it to the appropriate authorities could also find themselves penalized under the proposed law.
It is a draconian bill that, nonetheless, has strong support among Nigeria’s lawmakers. This shouldn’t be surprising given sub-Saharan Africa’s socially conservative and highly religious society. In fact, at least 34 African nations ban homosexuality outright in some form or another and lately more African countries have been proposing or enacting stiff legislation against gays.
One fascinating aspect about Africa’s anti-gay trend, however, is its racial component. While people around the world often contend that homosexuality is a “Western phenomenon,” (remember when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an American audience that his country didn’t have homosexuals?) African vitriol toward gays seems more starkly set in the racial divide.
Take, for example, Nigerian lawmaker Zakari Mohammed who was quoted in a recent AFP news report saying that Nigeria has “a culture (and) religious beliefs and we have a tradition. We are black people. We are not white.” Mohammed goes on to say that same-sex marriage “is alien to our culture and we can never give it a chance.”
Is there anything more patently ridiculous than saying that homosexuality is only something that whites do? What about the courageous yet seriously threatened, and often brutally attacked or killed, gays who live openly in Africa? Are they not African? Are they not really black?
It as a cowardly statement to make. And for a continent that has had to endure such an inordinate amount of civil strife and human rights abuses it is shameful that African lawmakers would show such contempt to a beleaguered minority.