Why Nigerians still support Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act
Three years on from the passage of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill into law, it continues to enjoy a high level of public support, despite other indications that more Nigerians are respectful of the rights of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual citizens.
A poll conducted by The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) via NOI Polls, surveyed 2,000 Nigerians across the country and demographic groups, and found out that 39% of Nigerians accept that lesbian, gay and bisexual(LGB) Nigerians deserve equal access to public healthcare, housing and education. Despite this positive indicator of tolerance, the survey also shows that 90% of Nigerians support the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA). It would be quite convenient to ignore support for the SSMPA and focus on the encouraging social acceptance, however, as a society, we cannot ignore the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Especially because support for it is rooted, I believe, in a misunderstanding of what the law does.
In using the words ‘Same Sex Marriage,’ what lawmakers did was to play on Nigerians’ fear of cultural change, with a controversial title, when really this law goes far beyond banning same-sex marriage. Nigerians broadly believe the law only bans same-sex marriage but there is a lot more to worry about. One needs to go beyond the sensational title and talk about the content of a law that violates fundamental rights guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution.
For example, clause 4.2 of the act talks about public shows of amorous affection between people of the same sex. This is one of the sections aimed at criminalizing freedom of association based on perceived identity, as well as criminalizing people because of their association or knowledge of someone being lesbian, gay or bisexual. We need to talk about these sections because they empower police, other state actors and non-state actors to think violence, hate and prejudice towards Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people, is okay. As TIERs, and Human Rights Watch have documented, when the act was passed, Nigeria witnessed an increase in human rights violations from law enforcement and communities, all arising from perceived sexual orientation.
The huge support for the SSMPA is born more out of ignorance and misunderstanding. Many Nigerians do not realize that with the way the Act is set up, the dangers of the law can affect anyone – even if they are not an LGB person. The definition of ‘same sex amorous affection’ in section 4.2 of the law is so broad that it can apply to two male friends hugging or female friends sharing a bed; in short, any form of public affection between people of the same gender is criminalized. Yet, many support the SSMPA because they choose to allude to the conjecture that the LGB community in Nigeria were clamouring for same-sex marriage. This is faulty thinking. From my experience working closely with this community in Nigeria, I can say quite authoritatively that, Lesbians, Gay and Bi-sexual persons in Nigeria only want one thing: to live; to exist freely, enjoying their fundamental human rights.
There is no campaign for same-sex marriage in Nigeria. The struggle is about respect for fundamental rights and tolerance for all Nigerian citizens and this includes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans persons. That which is urgently important right now, is that the human rights’ principle in Nigeria is broken and we need to fix this as soon as possible. If 39% of Nigerians can agree that Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual persons have a right to access public services, their views deserve to be respected. This fraction of people are also a part of the 90% population who support SSMPA, separate from another 17% who actually think that LGBT are equal to other Nigerians.
Nigerians are entitled to their rights. As for the 9 in 10 Nigerians that support the SSMPA, what their support symbolizes is an obvious lack of education, and understanding of the subject of sexuality and human rights; but most of all, a real ignorance of the law they claim to support.
Olumide Makanjuola is Executive Director of The Initiative for Equal Rights. The Survey on Nigerians Perception of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Rights is available to view at http://theinitiativeforequalrights.org/resources