Nigeria’s parliament has passed a law that will jail people of the same sex who attempt to marry and bans gay groups and any displays of homosexuality.
Versions of the bill have been proceeding through the legislature since at least 2007. On Thursday, an apparently final version was passed by the House of Representatives.
The news came as a surprise to many human rights defenders who were not expecting the vote this week.
While it remains unclear if the final version of the bill is the same as previously approved by both houses of parliament, it is still expected to jail gay couples who marry for 14 years.
“Marriage or civil union entered between persons of same gender shall not be solemnised in any place of worship, either church or mosque or any place in Nigeria,” reads the bill.
In addition, “any persons or group of persons that administers, witnesses, screen and shields the solemnisation of same sex marriage in Nigeria on conviction, will be liable to 10 years imprisonment.”
If the bill is made law, gay organisations, clubs or meetings will also be banned as will any public displays of affection between same-sex couples.
The bill represents an absurd level of overkill. Homosexuality is already illegal in Nigeria with punishment including 14 years imprisonment or death by stoning in northern regions under local Islamic law.
According to the Associated Press, the bill now goes to President Goodluck Jonathan for him to sign into law. However, other sources say that the bill may have to still be reviewed and passed by the Senate before being sent to the president.
The chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, told AP that he only became aware of the vote after it had taken place. He said that if the bill became law, it would likely be challenged in court as it had “serious issues”.
Jonathan faces a barrage of criticism should he decide to sign the bill, which has been condemned by international human rights group and a number of Western governments.
In 2011, Sir Richard Branson spoke out against the bill, saying: “Like everyone else in society, gay people have an enormous amount to offer and Nigeria should embrace them not prosecute them.”
That same year, Amnesty international said: “By aiming to single out and deprive the rights of one group of people, this bill threatens all Nigerians by violating the country’s Constitution and international human rights obligations.”