A Nigerian Senate committee held hearings Monday on the “Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill.” This product of moral panic would provide criminal penalties for engaging in, solemnizing, or “aiding and abetting” a same-sex marriage — all quite unnecessary, since Nigeria’s colonial-era sodomy law already penalizes homosexual conduct sternly.
Nigeria’s politics often have a slightly mad quality. The hearing was no exception, since some participants seemed to have no idea what the bill was about, believing they were there to oppose a proposal for same-sex marriage, not support a ban against it. The Catholic Church mobilized in this addled fashion; Catholic Women of Nigeria (CWON) claimed it sent women from “36 states of the federation” who “converged in Abuja to march to the assembly.”
Speaking in a telephone interview, the CWON’s national president, Mrs. Felicia Onyaibo, said the women will this morning match to the National Assembly to hand in a letter of protest to the Senate President, David Mark, condemning the initiative, and urge him to discard such bill, as it is not in the interest of the nation and dignity of marriage.
“We are also extending invitation to the male counterparts to support us in this protest. They can join us in the protest today so that we can help fight this ill initiative, which is aimed at destroying marriage values and its dignity,” she said.
Other news stories lent credit to the same notion. But no one has offered a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Nigeria; no one in Nigeria has suggested it. Imaginative Christian soldiers, these souls are girding their loins and going off to war against a figment, a fiction, a ghost. As a statement by bill opponents explained a month ago,
We as human rights defenders are aware that not a single gay group has asked for the right to marry. Our advocacy is not directed at that. We are advocating for tolerance and respect for everyone irrespective of his or her sex, gender, age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and gender identity, etc.
The spectral ability of same-sex marriage to induce a panic even in the absence of anyone proposing it has been repeatedly shown worldwide, and is worth deeper consideration. In this case, the bill would be largely a symbolic insult to the same-sex loving population, but one with practical ramifications — a bullying threat to public activism, and an affirmation that they have no place in Nigeria’s diverse array of communities and cultures.
Meanwhile, at Monday’s meeting of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, opponents of the bill were given only two slots to speak, while proponents (that is, opponents of non-existent same-sex marriage) were given many more. The Senate President appeared at the hearing and “openly rejected the proposal for same sex marriage in the country,” which nobody proposed:
“It is incomprehensible to contemplate on same sex marriage. I cannot understand it. I cannot be a party to it. There are enough men and women to marry each other. The whole idea is the importation of foreign culture, but this one would be a freedom too many. We cannot allow our tradition and value system eroded.
“It is offensive. It is repugnant. I will preach against it and we must stand up to reject same sex marriages in Nigeria. I do not think any religion support this. I don’t know where this whole idea of same sex marriage comes from.”
The Daily Times notes that the “senate president’s disposition on the bill is a strong indication of its fate. It suggests that the bill, which has failed at two consecutive sessions in the House of Representatives, may finally be passed into law by the Senate.” But the paper adds, “the little population of public homosexuals in Nigeria – with help from the international community – have been able to put up a strong resistance to the promulgation of any law directly against the act [of same-sex marriage].”
Aside from the question of international help, of which there’s been not so much, this is true. Activists in Nigeria managed to quash the early bill in 2006 -7 essentially on their own, by organizing, appearing at hearings, and speaking out when everybody believed they would be too intimidated to appear or to raise their voices. Courage to them as they face the same ruckus and rhodomontade for another round.