Gay Marriage and African Politics

I am writing to condemn in no uncertain terms the recent passage by the Senate of the the anti gay marriage bill. The passage of this bill once again demonstrates how disconnected Nigerian politicians and lawmakers are from the realities of the 21st century. It has confirmed that our lawmakers indeed prefer to fiddle while our social, political and economic house, called Nigeria, burns. Otherwise how does one explain the relevance of this bill at a time when Nigeria has become almost a failed state due to terrorist attacks, sectarian violence, corruption, poverty, diseases, abuse of office, tribalism and nepotism, misguided politics and mistaken sense of statecraft?

The passage of this bill has shown clearly how misplaced our priorities are, or better, how misplaced the priorities of those who claim to lead this country are. Our Senators should answer this question clearly: How does an anti gay marriage bill contribute to the greatest good of the greatest number of Nigerians?

Does this bill put food on their table or money in their pocket? The answer is: No. Does it provide them jobs? No. Does it enhance their much needed security and peaceful coexistence? No. Does it improve the standard of education in the country? No. Does it make Nigerian parents more responsible in terms of child support, upbringing and other family responsiblities? No. Does it improve the love and harmony in homes and communities across the country? No. Will this bill improve trust in marriages and relationaships in Nigeria? No. Will it in any way strengthen the much talked-about marriage institution or family values? No. Can the Senators tell me the practical, political, moral relevance of this bill, except to legislate and institutionalize hatred and persecution of minorities, gay cleansing, moral hypocrisy and inquisition?

The true test of a democracy is not how it panders to the so called will (real or imagined) of the majority but how it treats and respects its minority. The test of a society’s humanity is how it protects and defends vulnerable members of the population.

And with this bill, has the Nigerian democracy and society failed this test? The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.

This anti gay marriage bill is a clear indictment of our sense of common humanity and our commmitment to human rights principles as a people and as a nation. The state cannot legislate when it comes to sexual relationships among consenting adults. The politicians and lawmakers cannot dictate for adults whom to relate with. Lawmakers have no business in the bedroom of adults.

For me this anti gay marriage bill is another pointer to where we have chosen to go as a nation – backward. Today the global trend is to unban, not to ban gay marriage.

Yes, the Senate vote to ban gay marriage is another indication of how our politicians have refused to confront our real challenges and to tackle and address our real, urgent and pressing problems as a nation and as a people. Instead our lawmakers prefer to pursue shadows and to engage in wasteful debates and counter-productive legislation. Yes, I want to reiterate that the whole idea of debating and passing a bill against gay marriage which has been going on since 2006 is a waste of our limited legislative resources, a huge distraction from more pressing issues, and a mark of our warped sense of politics and lawmaking. In fact it is an abuse of Nigeria’s legislative space. The obsession with homophobia among our lawmakers is unwarranted and uncalled for. It is rather an indication of political futility and emptiness, lack of vision, and failure to focus politically expedient programs for nation building and good governance.

I still want to know from our Senators and all those clamouring for an anti gay marriage legislation the rationale behind such a bill in a country where homsexuality is a crime. Can any gay marriage act or pact legally stand in a situation where homosexuality is illegal? The answer is NO. So why do our Senators think we need an anti gay marriage legislation at this time?. Today as we all know most countries are striving to make their laws compatible, not in conflict, with human rights. They are either reviewing, amending or repealing laws like those against homosexuality and blasphemy and for the death penalty, which are not in line with human rights, or introducing new laws that are in accordance with human rights.

And instead of moving forward with these countries and working towards repealing obnoxious laws, our politicians and lawmakers prefer to move backward by tightening the laws against homosexuality on the basis of religious and fanatical sentiments, and an ill-defined sense of African culture and tradition. Culture is not static. Culture is diverse and dynamic. There were acts, norms and habits deemed culturally unacceptable centuries ago but which are commonplace cultural practices today. Those who are saying that respecting people with homosexual orientation is unAfrican are really misrepresenting the African culture. If there is anything history tells us it is that Africans have been traditionally tolerant of people with same-sexual orientation prior to the introduction of criminal provisions based on the alien religions of Christianity and Islam. African politicians and lawmakers should make African traditions compatible with human rights. Unfortunately, the anti gay marriage bill entrenches and legalizes homophobia not human rights.

Meanwhile, there has been some vague reference to the recent threat by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron who, at the recent meeting of the Commonwealth, moved to cut add cut to countries that do not reform legislations banning homosexuality. Some have interpreted the statement as an attempt by the UK to impose its values on the rest of the world. I don’t think this is the case. Britain is a democratic country where the people’s voices and opinions matter.

I believe that the so-called threat was a reflection of the voices and wishes of the British people. Britian has decriminalized homosexuality and made significant progress in the protection of the rights of gay people. The British government is simply saying that they cannot be protecting the rights of homosexual persons and also be providing aid or financial assistance to countries where the same people, who are protected under British law, are persecuted or treated as criminals. No country, even Nigeria, would agree to provide aid or assistance to countries where black people are treated as criminals or thrown into jail because of the colour of their skin. How do we then expect Britain to extend aid to countries that persecute and legislate against individuals based on their sexual orientation? But this is a simple logic which the homophobia of many African politicians and lawmakers cannot allow them to understand or appreciate.

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