US church leaders condemn Nigerian anti-gay law

By staff writers
March 1, 2007

A law in Nigeria that would impose brutal penalties on shows of affection between lesbian and gay people, or even on those who would advocate for lesbian and gay people, has been condemned by more than 250 Christian leaders from the US.

In a letter to the Nigerian government, the Christian leaders call upon the government of Nigeria to "respect basic human dignity and reject the persecution of lesbians and gays by withdrawing the proposed law."

The new measures which may pass into law in the next few weeks, would impose brutal penalties on all relationships, activism, advocacy, and shows of affection among lesbian and gay people. It would introduce criminal penalties for any public advocacy or associations supporting the rights of lesbian and gay people, as well as for same-sex relationships and marriage ceremonies.

The bill, entitled 'The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006', goes much further than the name suggests. The bill provides for five years' imprisonment to anyone who "goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex," "performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage" or "is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private."

Any priest or cleric aiding or abetting such a union could be subject to the five-year prison term. The law would also prohibit adoption of children by lesbian or gay couples or individuals.

Homosexuality is already criminalized in Nigeria. Nigeria's criminal code penalizes consensual homosexual conduct between adults with 14 years' imprisonment. Shari'a penal codes in effect in northern Nigeria continue to punish 'sodomy' with the death penalty.

"Christianity teaches us to respect all our sisters and brothers, and that includes lesbians and gays," said Reverend Susan Russell, Senior Associate for Pastoral Life at All Saints Episcopal Church in the US. "Whether in Nigeria or in the United States, the Christian value of human dignity for all is paramount. We call upon the government of Nigeria to respect basic human dignity and reject the persecution of lesbians and gays by withdrawing the proposed law."

"I join spiritual leaders around the world in calling upon the Nigerian government to respect the dignity of its gay and lesbian citizens, just as the God who made us cherishes all of his children," said the Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington.

"As a Black Christian Leader in the United States, I am keenly aware of the effects of legalized discrimination," said Reverend John Selders of Amistad United Church of Christ. "We are all God's Children and have a right to share in the recognition of our human dignity."

"The core of the Christian gospel is hospitality, love and justice, but the proposed law stands in stark contrast with each of these values," said Reverend Rebecca Voelkel, ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. "As Christian leaders, it is our ethical and moral obligation to speak loudly and clearly against such discriminatory legislation."

On February 23, 2007, four United Nations independent experts on human rights also condemned the bill. They stated, "In addition to clear elements of discrimination and persecution on the basis of sexual orientation, the Bill contains provisions that infringe freedoms of assembly and association and imply serious consequences for the exercise of the freedom of expression and opinion." They added that it would " have a chilling effect for local human rights defenders who undertake peaceful advocacy on the adverse human rights implications of the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons."

In addition to the Reverend Susan Russell, Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, Reverend John Selders, and Reverend Rebecca Voelkel, more than 250 religious leaders signed the letter to the leadership of the Nigerian Senate in condemnation of the bill to criminalize gay rights.

The full text of the letter can be read here:

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