As many countries are legalizing gay marriage, will Nigeria ever follow their lead?

As many countries are legalizing gay marriage, will Nigeria ever follow their lead?

Homosexuality is criminalized in 38 African countries with sentences ranging from 3 months to 14 years. In some Islamic states, homosexuality is punishable by death especially in states where Sharia law is enforced; gays and lesbians are stoned to death. In Nigeria, the LGBT community is far from gaining social recognition because religion-induced homophobia seems to be a prevailing factor that cuts across ethnic disparities and prevails whenever issues about homosexuality is brought up. The correlation between the LGBT rights and democratic societies depicts that societies that allow same-sex marriage are free. Nigeria happens to be a country where there are restrictions on individuals – in terms of speech expression, freedom of assembly, etc and that is one of the reasons why you see a clampdown on LGBT rights. In terms of income levels and religion – most importantly, religion and its influence in politics also indicates the reason for divergence as compared to other countries, in this region. To say Nigeria would decriminalize homosexuality with its great influence of religion in politics will be the fastest way to tell a lie. It is a democratic society that rules out freedom in the subtlest of ways because of religion. A noticeable number of countries are beginning to legalize same-sex marriage amid the recognition of lesbians, gay, bi-sexual and transgender rights as compared to other human rights but some countries strongly oppose these rights and Nigeria happens to be one of them. In comparing attitudes towards the LGBT of previous years to the current, the attitude appears to be changing and this has something to do with the influence of international social norms on the social norms in the country. Attitudes are changing but religion seems to be one thing restricting the overhaul that would lead to the complete acceptance of the LGBT community.  

Nigeria is a highly religious society with its 169.9 million populations in half between the Christian South and the Muslim North but somehow reunites over the homophobia and strong opposition to homosexuality. In Nigeria, the same sex marriage prohibition act, which bans gay relationships and ingrained intolerance to sexual minorities in Nigeria, was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan in January 2014. The notion is to prohibit marriage between persons of the same sex. It also forbids cohabitation between same-sex partners and also, bans any public show of same sex relationships. Punishments are severe which range from 10 to 14 years of imprisonment. It is stealthily said that the law was enacted to discourage imperialism by western nations due to the pressure for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Most individuals have commended the former President of Nigeria for enacting this law based on their ceaseless religious beliefs from culture and tradition. The law of the criminalizing homosexuality has been used as an excuse by some individuals who take delight in extorting and stirring violence against such sexual minority groups based on their homophobia but has decreased in comparison to recent years from previous years. A 2017 NOI poll survey compared attitudes towards LGBT people in Nigeria against a 2015 poll and a 7 percent increase in acceptance was found and 9 percent rise of those surveyed who think the LGBT people should be allowed equal access to public services, education, housing with discrimination. At least, its representation in the media is a clear illustration of slow acceptance without some steep indulgence in discrimination. Despite its gradual acceptance in reducing discrimination, social media provides a space for LGBT persons to interact and address issues such as discrimination and bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation. Social media has played a role in giving voice to the LGBT community, although content about homosexuality is minimal. Some vocal statements in favor of the LGBT movement on the internet are from local and international icons like Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Charles Oputa (Charly Boy). These celebrities have received commendation as well as condemnation as regards this topic of homosexuality.  

To say there is languid progress in acceptance is a thing of hope despite Nigeria not being an easy place to discuss such topic because of its stringent values as regards religious beliefs from culture and tradition. Nigeria is one of the countries still incessant on the ban of homosexuality. Focusing on development cannot be used as excuse for not decriminalizing homosexuality because even though Nigeria is regarded as a developing country, some other developing countries like Nepal, Nicaragua, Mozambique, India – have made progress in decriminalizing same-sex sexual activities but Nigeria seems to be going backwards because of its incessancy to dwell on religion repeatedly.

The law has contributed to people not accepting who they really are and has caused some sort of wily effect on individual self-expression. Some are restricted to visiting some places and which they have to adopt some self-censoring behavior by somehow, altering their gender presentation to efface suspicion by people of the public and to avoid arrest and extortion. Freedom has to be embraced fully for the legalization of the same-sex marriage. A country where freedom is subtle and conformity is peak slows the progress that would ensure the legalization. Imagine – people that have identified with such community have had to flee the country because of the stigmatization that comes with such identity. Some are disowned by family members and ignored and left alone by friends not only because of the law but because of how grounded the country is on culture and tradition. Because of this conformity that comes with religious beliefs, some gay people are pressured by society and families to marry someone of the opposite sex because the expectation is to conform, and not living happily with whom you are. Focusing on injustice against the LGBT group only permits more violence against them. As the law restricts their freedom, so do other religious individuals in the society.

In solidifying if Nigeria would ever legalize same-sex marriage, despite its present groundedness on religion, gradual acceptance and minimal discrimination against the community, in the nearest future, yes! Same-sex marriage would be legalized. But it would be a very long time, as long as religiosity is ignored to foster decriminalization. Religious liberty should exclude homophobia. The only path to the legalization of same-sex marriage is to avoid religion being the decider in political agendas – Ignoring religious leaders and being concerned about only the freedom and rights of the citizens. Until religion is ruled out in decision making, focusing on the rights of the citizens because LGBT rights is also a critical human rights issue won’t be possible. In a highly religious society, religion seems to be the only thing hindering freedom in our society. Religion should be more caring, more accommodating and accepting. When laws are made, without the involvement of religion which somehow breaches freedom in most areas, the acceptance of homosexuality would take place. Although, citizens with their deep rooted religious beliefs would have a hard time coming to terms with it. The western emancipation of the LGBT community wasn’t an easy process but regardless, it happened.

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