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Nigeria: Senate Considering Legislation to Criminalize Same-Sex Marriage

(Oct. 4, 2011) The 109-member Nigerian Senate is considering a draft law, the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, aimed at criminalizing same-sex marriage. The draft passed a second reading on September 27, 2011, and was sent to the Standing Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters and to the Committee on Health and Interior. (Uchenna Awom & Chibuzo Ukaibe, Senate's Proposed Law: Homosexual Marriages Attract Jail Term, LEADERSHIP (Sept. 28, 2011).) Procedure dictates that if it clears the Senate floor, in order to take effect, the draft law will have to be adopted by the 360-member lower house, the Nigerian National Assembly, and signed by the President. (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, § 58.)

The most notable provision in the draft law criminalizes contracting a marriage between same-sex individuals. This appears to go a step further than the Federal Criminal Code Act, which criminalizes homosexual acts. The Federal Criminal Code Act specifically states that “[a]ny person who … has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature … is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.” (Criminal Code Act, § 214, 4 LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, Cap. C38.) Attempt to commit the same act, also an offense, is punishable on conviction by seven years in prison (id. § 215). If the draft law is enacted, merely “coming together of persons of same sex with the purpose of living together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship” will be criminalized. (Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, § 6, Federal Republic of Nigeria Senate.)

The draft law imposes harsh penalties for violations of its provisions. Persons who enter into same-gender marriages commit an offense under the bill and are, on conviction, punishable with three years in prison (id., § 4). An individual who helps a same-sex couple contract marriage also commits an offense and is, on conviction, punishable with five years in prison and/or a fine (id.).

If history is any indication, it is unlikely that the draft law, having failed twice in the past, will be adopted this time. It was initially proposed in 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and expired in April 2007 with the dissolution of Parliament. (Joseph Sewedo Akoro, Third Time Unlucky? New Bill Prohibiting Same Sex Marriage Placed Before Nigerian Parliament, MASK (Sept. 28, 2011).) A similar proposal made in 2007 again expired in April 2011 with the dissolution of the Nigerian Parliament (id.). The same fate awaits the current version of the draft law unless it clears both houses of the National Assembly and the President signs it before the next national election cycle, set for April 2015. (See Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria, § 64.)