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March 28, 2013

Nigerians Hopeful, Angry Over US Gay Marriage Case

by Heather Murdock

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers the country's legal position on gay marriage, Nigerian leaders are re-asserting their position on the issue, advocating laws that further ban the already illegal practice.  Gay rights activists in Nigeria fear if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to uphold laws banning gay marriage in America, it will be an excuse to further squash gay rights in Nigeria.

Religious and political leaders are bitterly divided on many issues but they generally stand together in condemnation of gay marriage, saying it is a practice that is spreading from the West and must be stopped.

Musa Soba, a lawyer and local chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria, a prominent opposition party, rejects the view that gay marriage is a human right.

"Your rights should remain as far as the issue of survival is concerned, as far as your right to eat is concerned, your right to life, your right to freedom of association and the rest.  But it does not transcend to your right to abuse nature," he said.

Pastor Yohanna Buru, head of the Christ Evangelical Fellowship Church in the northern city of Kaduna, says the notion of gay marriage is harming his religion.

"There are certain agents in the church promoting evil in the church.  Destroying and deforming the name of Christianity,"  said Buru.

And the spokesperson for the Supreme Council of Sharia Law in Nigeria, Abdullahi Bayero, sees the practice as nothing short of catastrophic.

"I believe from a religion perspective, as I have said earlier, it is the beginning and a sign that the world is coming to an end," said Bayero.

On the streets it is impossible to find anyone who will defend gay marriage.

"To me, in my opinion it is totally unacceptable," a man said. Another man adds, "It’s a devilish act.  It’s barbaric and animalistic."

"It’s not good," a women said. "I don’t support it at all.  I don’t support it."

Private support

And behind closed doors in this compound outside the Nigerian capital, Thaddeus Ugoh, who advocates for the rights of sexual minorities, says even he would not speak up for gay marriage on the streets.  But he says things are slowly changing in Nigeria and he is watching the U.S. Supreme Court case closely.

He says the case is an opportunity for the U.S. to show moral leadership in the area of human rights.  On the other hand, he says, if the Supreme Court decides to uphold the laws banning gay marriage it could increase hostility towards homosexuals in Nigeria and other deeply conservative countries.

"In fact the kind of crisis it will cause in countries like ours, you can't imagine it.  There is already hatred.  There is phobia.  They are already against people that are perceived to be gay," he said.

Ugoh says he has great hope that the world’s growing sympathy for gay rights is spreading to Africa, but he also worries that if the U.S. steps back from the trend, gay people in Africa will sink further into the shadows, making it more difficult for aid organizations to provide health care and support.

Legalization unlikely

However, if the court finds in favor of gay marriage in the U.S., analysts say it is unrealistic that gay marriage will be legalized in Nigeria any time soon. 

"I think it would take much more than that for any serious push to happen to legalize gay marriage in Nigeria," said Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja.

Homosexual acts are also illegal in Nigeria, he says, and that is also not likely to change.  But Nwankwo says although it is not obvious on the streets, Nigeria is more tolerant of gays than it used to be.

Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna.