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Article Liberia: Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Passed by Senate

(July 30, 2012) On July 20, 2012, the 30-member Liberian Senate unanimously passed legislation aimed at amending the Domestic Relations Law to ban same-sex marriage. (J. Burgess Carter, Senate Passes 'No Same Sex Marriage' Bill, DAILY OBSERVER (July 21, 2012).) The draft amendment is now headed to the 64-member House of Representatives. If approved in its current form, it will be sent to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for her assent. (Constitution of Liberia, art. 35, LIBERIAN LAW.COM (last visited July 23, 2012).)

President Sirleaf has already made it clear that she will veto the proposed legislation should it reach her desk. (Liberia: Pres. Johnson Sirleaf Will NOT Sign Proposed Anti-Gay Bill, ROD 2.0: BETA (Feb. 27, 2012).) However, the President's veto can be overridden by a vote of two-thirds of the members in both houses of the Liberian Parliament. (Constitution of Liberia, art. 35.) If the unanimous support the legislation has received in the Senate is any indication, it is likely that the President's veto will be easily overridden and the legislation will become law. (Carter, supra.)

The penalty the proposed legislation would impose for same-sex marriage is dramatically higher than that applicable to a homosexual act, which is also an offense. A homosexual act under existing law is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. (Penal Law, § 50.7, Title 26, IV LIBERIAN CODES REVISED (Apr. 3, 1978), LIBERIA LEGAL INFORMATION INSTITUTE.) The proposed legislation seeks to make same-sex marriage a felony of the second degree, an offense punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. (Id. § 50.5; Carter, supra.)

Similar legislation has been proposed in Nigeria, with even harsher penalties. On November 29, 2011, the Nigerian Senate adopted legislation criminalizing same-sex marriage and imposing a penalty of 14 years in prison for the parties to the marriage and 10 years in prison for accessories. (Hanibal Goitom, Nigeria: Senate Adopts Bill Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Nov. 30, 2011).) However, unlike the legislation in Nigeria, which has been languishing in Parliament for six years awaiting the approval of the country's House of Representatives and President, it is very likely that the proposed Liberian legislation will soon become law. (Id.)

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