London, 15 January 2014
On 7 January 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in secret. The Act imposes lengthy prison sentences on any person who attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage or civil union; who participates in a gay club, society or organisation; or who makes a public display of affection with a person of the same sex.
Unaware that he had signed the Act, The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) wrote to President Jonathan on 10 January 2014, urging him not to sign the legislation, which had been passed by the National Assembly of Nigeria on 17 December 2013. As shown in ERT’s letter, the Act contravenes a number of human rights which Nigeria is obligated to protect; and it will legitimise, institutionalise, and perpetuate the profound discrimination and gross inequality suffered by lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Nigeria today.
Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Act largely restate the extant legal position in Nigeria, reiterating that same-sex marriage is not legal. However, section 5 of the Act establishes new criminal sanctions of up to fourteen years’ imprisonment for those who seek to enter into a same-sex marriage or civil union. The section also imposes criminal penalties of up to ten years’ imprisonment on those who witness a same-sex marriage or civil union. The broad definition of “civil union” means that any arrangement by which same-sex couples live together is prohibited.
Section 4(1) of the Act prohibits the registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations with similar punishments of imprisonment for any individual who tries to register or participate in such a club, society or organisation. Section 4(2) of the Act criminalises “public shows of amorous same-sex relationships” with up to ten years’ imprisonment.
As set out in ERT's letter to the President, these provisions represent a clear violation of the rights to be free from degrading treatment, as well as to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as protected by international treaties. The Act also violates the right to non-discrimination, as provided by Articles 2(1) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
This legislation joins other laws in Nigeria which seriously infringe on the rights of LGBT persons, particularly the continuing criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity punishable by long terms of imprisonment in the southern states of Nigeria, and by the death penalty in the northern states. The criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity constitutes a flagrant violation of the rights to privacy and non-discrimination, and the imposition of the death penalty for such acts is incompatible with the strict limitations on the permissible use of the death penalty under international law.
To read ERT’s letter to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria on the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, click here .
The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act has not yet been published. To read the final version of the Bill passed by the Senate, click here .