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On same-sex marriage

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Britain Prime Minister Theresa May / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

At the just concluded joint Forum of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) in Westminster, United Kingdom, the British Prime Minister Theresa May called for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Nigeria and in all other countries within the Commonwealth.

Not surprisingly, this has ignited a firestorm of controversy on so many levels. Prime Minister May, without a shadow of doubt, was fully aware of the uproar such a controversial proposition would generate and as far as Nigerians are concerned, her proposition has appropriately been seen as very much against the norms and cultures of the country. Hence, many have responded in a non-emotive manner but firmly with reason.

May went further and described laws (including those the UK used to have) against same sex marriage and civil unions as ‘discriminatory’ and expressed her deep regret that those laws were introduced. It is, however, gratifying that she acknowledged that ‘we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions’ though with the caveat that ‘we must do so in a manner consistent with equality, as it is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter’.

On January 13, 2014, then President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act which the National Assembly had earlier passed in May 2013. It is an Act “to prohibit a marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex, solemnization of same; and for related matters.” This Act was in response to a global rising tide of acceptance and tolerance, especially in western democracies, of what has become known as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) lifestyle. Reaction to the passage of the Act and it’s strict penalties from the western world was, of course, swift, condemnatory and led to the deterioration of relations with the European Union and in particular the Barack Obama administration in the United States of America.

Laws reflect the norms, ethos and culture of a people and just like the United Kingdom, Nigeria’s laws reflect who the people of Nigeria are and not who anyone thinks they should be. Prime Minister May herself admitted that the UK was the first in the Commonwealth to enact these so-called ‘discriminatory’ laws and the rest of the member-countries merely adopted most of these laws from the colonialist. If the UK now chooses to change and legalise gay marriage, it is at liberty as a sovereign country to do so. But Nigeria, like any other country, is a sovereign nation too upon which no other country can impose its own warped values. Societies and cultures, change at a pace commensurate with their absorptive capacity. Evolution to tolerance and eventually acceptance may be inevitable in human affairs but too much, too soon, against the ethos of a society, is sure to lead to social upheaval.

The continuing assault on the traditional family structure is totally unacceptable. The global village is evolving at a dizzying pace and here in Nigeria, this evolution is not something we should accept. Younger Nigerians, like their peers worldwide, have more fully and tragically embraced these changes. The challenge before the nation therefore is how to calibrate what changes are acceptable and those the people should decline to embrace.

The younger generations worldwide are largely more open-minded and tolerant due to globalisation and the absence of limitations to interactions. This has implications for the sustainability of values, and Nigeria must remain circumspect in adapting to changing circumstances. Exhibiting pride in the nation’s different and rich cultures or defending them is not a sin. Indeed, it is the hallmark of dignity in one’s identity.

Recognition that societies are changing and the gradual de-stigmatisation of homosexuality is real but should not be tantamount to acceptance.

The vehemence and near unanimity in Nigeria in the rejection of this proposition is therefore not misplaced. It is heartening that there remain certain values that the vast majority of Nigerians consider non-negotiable.

It is, however, disheartening that Nigerians are unable to translate this same resoluteness to all the other values that are under existential threat in the nation. The people therefore need to examine why they are seemingly tolerant of value erosion in other equally important societal norms. Selectivity in value enforcement is a grave threat and has contributed in no small measure to the rot prevalent in too many areas .

Same-sex union is not part of who Nigerians are and this organised and coordinated effort to impose alien values on the nation should be resisted with every force. Perhaps more worrying, is Prime Minister May’s offer of the UK’s readiness ‘to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.’ What an insult!

Characterising legislations that conform with a nation’s values as ‘outdated and discriminatory’ offers insight into the coercive framing of the support on offer. Nigeria should therefore remain vigilant and recognise the short journey from ‘support’ to ‘coercion’ that is a recurring decimal in this mind-bending effort at re-colonisation. Once again Nigeria has a diverse and extremely rich culture that celebrates traditional family structure and the beauty of the union of man and woman. This dignity and beauty inform our laws. And nothing must change that.


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