November 29, 2011 / 5:43 PM / 6 years ago

Nigeria's Senate passes controversial anti-gay bill

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s Senate passed a bill on Tuesday to criminalise gay marriage and any same-sex “amorous relationship”, a major step in putting in place a law that has drawn widespread criticism in Western countries.

The Senate increased the punishment for gay marriage from the five years’ imprisonment originally proposed in the draft bill, to 14 years. The legislation must be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before it becomes law.

“Persons who entered into a same-sex marriage contract, or civil union commit an offence and are each liable on conviction to a term of 14 years in prison,” the bill says.

“Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”

Two similar bills have been proposed since 2006 but failed to pass before the expiry of the parliamentary term. The current national assembly has more than three years left on its tenure.

Africa’s most populous nation is the latest on the continent to try to tighten laws against homosexuality, angering human rights groups and leading Western countries like Britain to threaten a withdrawal of foreign aid.

The Senate said it had been warned that Britain could cut aid if the bill was passed.

“Anybody can write to us but our values are our values. If there is any country that does not want to give us aid or assistance just because we want to hold on to our values, that country can keep her aid and assistance,” Senate President David Mark said after the bill was passed.

“We should make that point very clear in this matter. No country has the right to interfere in the way we make our own laws because we don’t interfere in the way others make their own laws.”

Threats by British Prime Minister David Cameron to cut aid to African countries that do not respect gay rights have sparked outrage in aid-dependent Uganda and Malawi.

But Nigeria, whose treasury is fed by its 2 million barrel-per-day oil production, can afford to overlook such threats. As in much of sub-Saharan Africa, anti-gay sentiment is rife in Nigeria, so the new legislation is not unpopular.

A British High Commission spokesman in Nigeria’s capital Abuja declined to comment on the Senate’s decision.

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