A CALL FOR ACTION ON THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE SAME SEX MARRIAGE PROHIBITION BILL, 2011 ON INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC IN NIGERIA
A Release by the Coalition for Sexual Rights in Nigeria
The Nigerian House of Assembly is passing yet another Bill prohibiting same sex marriage sequel to those introduced in 2006 and 2008. The proposed law is titled ”Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, 2011” and has been recently revised, but in fact beyond the title it seeks to criminalise every Nigerian person(s), individuals and groups who are suspected or percieved to have any trace, exhibition, association and or characteristics of same sex relationship, friendship, association or gestures.
It is very important when such Bills are proposed by members of parliament that all Nigerians including civil society organizations look closely into such bills to see what implications they would have on every Nigerian, irrespective of gender, sex, religion, creed, culture, sexuality, tradition, origin, ethnic group and political opinion. Every time these laws are introduced most Nigerians do not understand what the provisions of such bills are and their implications on their daily lives as citizens of Nigeria. As noted from lack of a close look at such bills, most Nigerians make abrupt conclusions by concuring with the titles of the bills alone, due to already cultural, religious or political sentiments established on subject matters around same sex issues. It is a duty upon civil society organizations in Nigeria to inform and educate the citizens and be the whistle blowers when needed especially when this kind of oppressive and dangerous legislations are brought forward by our parliamentarians.
The proposed same sex marriage bill, 2011 was voted by the Senate on 3rd reading on 29th november, 2011, and also passed through first reading at the House on 7th December, 2011. Since the Bill has passed its first reading, if it sails through second and third reading and gets passed into Law at the lower house, it shall be sent to the President for his assent. Because this is a private member’s bill, whether the President assents or not, it will come into Law within 30 days, unless the Senate has a change of chart.
The quick analysis below seeks to peruse andhighlights the grave implications of the proposed legislation on the daily lives of every Nigerian citizen in communities, villages, towns and cities.Of principal concern for all Nigerians is that Sections 4, 5 and 7 of the revised and final copy of the billwhich has passed first reading at the House of Representative yesterday reach far beyond its scope to attack freedom of assembly and speech, among other rights. The bill, as currently revised to include more clauses, will encourage discrimination against all citizens of Nigeria, and in fact constitute an incitement to violence, ill-treatment and torture.
SECTION 7 of the proposed Bill
Rather than simply defining marriage as an act between one man and one woman, Section 7’s sweeping inclusion of any two people of the same sex living together allows anybody to be targeted, even when they do not have any sexual relation at all.
a) Many people in Nigeriashare their housing for economic reasons. If two roommates are of the same sex they could be accused by anybody with whom they have a personal or public dispute of “living together as husband and wife” and be prosecuted under the law.
b) Their relatives, friends or visitors could be accused of indirectly supporting in private a same sex amorous relationship just by visiting them.
SECTION 4 (2) of the proposed Bill
In a very tactile society as ours, where people of same sex frequently hold each other’s hands, wrap their arms around each other’s waist, move close to each other to blow particles away from the eyes, can be seen in warm embrace, it will be difficult, if not possible to know when such actions are display of amorous relationships or expressions of human intimacy and affection that is devoid of any sexual meaning or connotation. This provision of the bill opens up the possiblitiy for witch-hunt and vindictive accusations which will impact on every Nigerian.
SECTION 5 of the proposed Bill
The prohibition of “ gay clubs, societies and organizations ”, and of any person involved not only in registration, but even in sustenance and meetings, registration, participation even in private, directly and indirectly, and the further prohibition of publicity, procession, and “public show of same sex amorous relationship.” may potentially affect anybody and any group.
a) Any Muslim women’s rights group or Christian women’s groupteaching the Quran or the Bible could be targeted as a “lesbian group” and persecuted by some who do not appreciate the use of religious teaching to empower women. In general, any women’s rights group could be easily targeted by those who do not support women’s empowerment.
b) Any member of samegender organizations, even students in same gender schoolsand clubs, could be targeted by anyone holding a grudge against members of the group or opposing the aims of the group.
c) Any person who does not fit the traditional or social standard of her or his community, such as an unmarried person in her or his 30s or 40s, or even a woman wearing trousers could be easily and falsely accused of being gay or lesbian.
d) Section 5 could also be a powerful tool in the hands of unscrupulous politicians and aspirants against their political opponents and thus undermine the electoral process and the democratic development of the country. For example, any politician or candidate could be maliciously accused of privately supporting either same sex amorous relationships or gay societies or even of being gay, and whether proved or not in court, even being accused under the law would likely ruin that person’s political career. Further, under Section 5, it would be easy to incriminate a politician or candidate simply by sending materials about gay related issues, and it might be difficult for the person to prove that the materials were unsolicited. Not only would such use of Section 5 potentially destroy a candidate’s reputation, given the penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment, waiting for trial in jail and or conviction could neatly sideline the candidate from continuing to participate in elections at all.
e) Any journalist, newspaper, radio, or television station reporting neutral information related to gay issues could easily be accused of promoting publicity of same sex amorous relationships. Without amendment, the bill could be easily used as a tool of censorship for political purposes.
f) Any human rights, civil rights, or health advocacy groups, including those working on HIV/AIDS prevention, could be accused of indirectly supporting same sex amorous relationships just by applying international human rights and health standards. Groups doing controversial work on any topic could be attacked with the excuse that they also support gay rights or promote same sex sexual relations. This law could potentially affect a wide variety of civil society activist or organization in the country.
g) Under the law, nobody could advocate against the human rights implication of the law itself without being found guilty of indirectly supporting same sex amorous relationships. This would be an inherent contradiction for a democratic system.
h) Under the proposed law no lawyer will be able to offer legal representation and infact such lawyer could be criminalized for representation and defense of any case perceived to be same sex related.
In summary, the implication and the aims of the bill, despite the best intention of the legislators, will go far beyond the prohibition of same sex marriage, and be used either as a censorship as well as punitive tool or against the democratic process of the country.
THE CALL FOR ACTION
Members of civil society organizations, human rights organizations and whistle blowers should be aware of the following;
The attention of all civil society organizations and human rights activists in Nigeria must be raised on the fact that the changes from the original draft of the bill without consultation with civil society, stakeholders and the general public is a breach of democratic principle and parliamentary procedure. This will only lead to the introduction of oppressive laws and further lead to gross human rights violation with impunity .
The un-democratic and biased conduct of the public hearing organized by the senate committee on human rights and judicial matters on the same sex marriage bill, 2011 also exemplifies the nature of unjust and unconstitutional way our policy makers are taking civil society opinions and roles in democratic governance. Members of civil society who attended the public hearing were utterly humiliated, profiled and called names by members of parliament because they spoke against a law that is un-democratic in a democratic system of government. This only depicts a bit of the likely brakeout of inhuman and degrading treatment to confront all Nigerians whether they are in support of the same sex legislation or not.
Members of civil society were outrightly harrassed, shamed and intimidated by security agents in front of the National Assembly because they spoke against a repressive legislation for which most Nigerians do not understand its implications. These actions are unlawful and furthermore exemplifies the nature of extrajudicial actions taken by law enforcement agencies even when such legislations are not passed to law.
We are getting reports from around the country of mob action and intimidation of people and individuals who are already being targeted due to discuss on the proposed legislation. We received reports from Benin, Calabar and Lagos and other parts of the country of situations where people are targeted and threatened by mob with extreme intrusiveness of the privacy of those persons whose behaviors do not conform with gender and social roles.
We urge Nigerian Civil society organizations, the Media,Women’s Right group, Feminist forum, Social Health workers, Civil Liberties organizations, the Nigerian Bar Association,the Nigerian Human Rights Commission, Christian associations, Muslim associations to mention but a few, to join hands with other CSOs to call on the President and the National Assembly to re-consider this bill to ensure that it protects basic democratic and human rights principles in Nigeria.
An analysis for communique which will be endorsed by Civil Society Organizations is being prepared to call the attention of The President and lawmakers to critically look into the implications of the proposed legislation. The communique will be shared with everyone who indicates interest by sending an email or calling on details provided below.