Voice of America (Washington, DC)

16 January 2014

Nigeria President Jonathan 'Praised' for Same-Sex Prohibition Law

Photo: Irin
Gay couple holding hands.

Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan has received overwhelming support from Nigerians after signing a law that prohibits same-sex marriages, according to Reuben Abati, spokesman for Jonathan.

He says Nigerian lawmakers unanimously voted for the same-sex prohibition measure after receiving inputs from their constituents across the country.

The law imposes a 14-year jail sentence for same-sex couples. The same-sex marriage prohibition law also bans gay clubs, associations and other activities that promote homosexuality, according to Abati.

"In accenting to this bill on January 7, President Jonathan took special cognizant of the fact that the bill and its positions reflects the religious and cultural preferences of the Nigerian people," said Abati. "There is no way in which this [law] violates the Nigerian constitution, either section 42 which talks about freedom from discrimination or other parts of the constitution, and there is no way it violates the criminal code or the penal code."

The U.S. State Department, however, said in a statement that the measure is "inconsistent with Nigeria's international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 Constitution."

Nigeria has come under international criticism following the implementation of the same-sex marriage prohibition law that some observers have characterized as "inhumane and draconian."

Both the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed concern about the Nigerian law, in a press statement released by the spokesperson of the UN Secretary General.

"The Secretary-General reiterates that everyone is entitled to enjoy the same basic rights and live a life of worth and dignity without discrimination. This fundamental principle is embedded in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights... The Secretary-General strongly hopes that the constitutionality of the law can be reviewed," read part of the statement.

But, Abati says over 90 percent of Nigerians have praised President Jonathan for signing the law that prohibits same-sex marriages.

"If President Jonathan had done otherwise, then of course he would have been condemned by the Nigerian people," said Abati. "What the world must realize is if the president had refused to sign the bill into law the national assembly would have vetoed the president, and [their] position would have been that we are the representative of the people and this is what the Nigerian people want."

Some observers say the law gives legal backing to those who violently attack members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

But Abati says the law does not empower people to create chaos.

"The law as phrased does not encourage lawlessness. In no way does any law in Nigeria encourage anybody to take the laws into their hands," said Abati. "What the law says is within the framework of decency within the framework of due process. The law does not saw individuals can attack or demonize or take the law into their own hands against people who claim that they are gay."

He says those violently attacked could seek redress in court.

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