Monday, 3 October 2011

Editorial: Legislating for the Unforeseeable of Same-Sex Marriage

Some background

And so the Nigerian Senators having spent 46 of the first 100 days of this legislative term in recess resumed the active duty of promulgating serious legislation which last week included the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2011.

The bill after much lively debate passed its second reading, but it behoves one to examine the purpose and intent of such a bill in Nigeria today.

It is quite evident that in much of Africa a swathe of fundamentalist religious fervour has swept through many countries endangering the lives of homosexuals. In Uganda, for the past few years, not only has the clamour to criminalise homosexuality rang out, the punishments to be meted out included the possibility of the death penalty.

Tolerated impunity in Africa

In January, a gay activist was bludgeoned to death by someone ready to plead gay-panic defence and his death cannot have been unrelated to the harshly virulent, bigoted and intolerant rhetoric of politicians and religious leaders alike who have with Machiavellian determination mined the mob element of the people to support the atrocious.

In South Africa with both homosexuality and same sex marriage legal, lesbians have been subjected to “corrective” rape, some have died in such attacks and I was completely repulsed beyond measure when a video was circulated of the public humiliation of a lesbian in West Africa with onlookers literally cheering on.

In other words, the concept of the acceptance of homosexuality in Africa will only be under duress from free societies in negotiations for other things than it becoming an accepted thing in society.

No danger of progressive thinking

Now, that is not to say that homosexuality does not exist in Africa, it has existed amongst humanity from time immemorial and for many in Africa it has not required the so-called influence of Western societies for it to be present and possibly thrive, no matter how little the numbers are.

That said, it will take a leap of faith bordering on the impossible to countenance a time when same sex marriage will gain any form acceptance where the law already prescribes punishments not far off from what would have made the Mosaic stoning acts almost merciful.

In the reports about the debate, as we have observed in other countries where homosexuality laws have been repealed, the legislators employed interestingly colourful language, all possibly based on conjuring the most revolting images to blackmail the unpersuaded to take sides for this attack on civil liberties.

Blackmail by revulsion

Taking root from religious law, they have conflated homosexuality with paedophilia, incest and bestiality which probably happens more amongst professed heterosexuals but it never finds mention. It would be nigh on impossible for such legislators to promulgate laws against adultery or fornication, though one is not suggesting that they have the propensity for such.

In the case of rape, when mention was made of the gang-rape and criminal assault of a lady, a member of the House of Representatives had the temerity to question the need for such discussion in the midst of other pressing Nigerian problems – it would have been wonderful for such minds to prevail on the fact that same sex marriage is not on the horizon for Nigeria in the foreseeable future and hence the debate was just an abject waste of time.

The bill was sponsored by 26 senators of which 3 were women, one of whom was once a Federal Minister of Finance; it invalidates unions and does not recognise any same sex marriages contracted in foreign countries where such is legal.

Witnesses criminalised more

What is quite amusing about the penalties is where the subjects of the “solemnisation” of the marriage are liable to 3 years of imprisonment whilst witnesses to such an event face either a term of 5 years imprisonment or a fine of NGN 2,000 or both.

In terms of groups, the fine is limited to NGN 50,000. What is confusing about what is patently a bad law is that it appears the same-sex marriage participants are not as severely punished as the witnesses to such an event – there are no two ways of stating that a bad law punishes observers more than the actors – it is radically and patently flawed whilst at the same time unfortunate that supposedly learned legislators are blinded by moral fury so as to be oblivious of the miscarriage of justice that looms in the wake of this outrageously condemnable stance.

You have to ask if the stenographers or publishers of such laws for debate take time to review their copy, proofread the documents and ensure that ambiguity and incorrect spelling, context or content is accounted for.

In the section about the interpretation of the law, it suggests that “Same Gender Marriage” means the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of leaving (sic) [I suppose living was intended here.] together as husband and wife or for other purposes of [a] same sexual (sic) [sex] relationship.

Unintended consequence already evident

However, let us not be given to unnecessary pedantry and look at the issues here; in the prevailing circumstances our Senators have just legislated for a mirage with the hope that they have handled an issue that hardly even if remotely touches any sense of reality – this bill shows an idleness of purpose with people so highly paid but lacking in principle, priority and focus to tackle more thorny issues that affect Nigeria and Nigerians at large.

Human-beings will always be human-beings and they will satisfy whatever feeling and persuasion they have regardless of the laws that encroach into the morality of society to attack an almost invisible minority.

The greater danger will be in the many who because of societal pressures will attempt to present public heterosexual lives whilst they pursue secret homosexual liaisons in what is commonly known as being on the Down-Low.

Societies that promulgate moral laws will always suffer from the almost schizophrenic tendency for people to live double lives, men or women with their families eventually getting caught up in literally unspeakable circumstances.

The wheels of social justice in reverse

The Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill is not one Nigeria needs at any time, it is legislating for the unforeseeable in anticipation of the improbable where there are no extenuating circumstances of evidence available to show that the country is vulnerable or prone to any such development.

Even in countries where Same Sex Marriage is legal, the homosexuals are not flocking to the altar in droves, it takes a lot to develop relationships between people regardless of gender-pairing and somehow our learned legislators in attempting to appear knowledgeable have just exposed they utter ignorance of a side of human nature they are completely clueless of – if we have such lack of expertise addressing even more pertinent legislative issues in Nigeria, we are the much poorer for it and we are sadder for the brigandage that allows for so much to be paid for such inconsequential and irrelevant service to Nigerians.

In the end, where we have allowed moral laws to trample on the rights of other who have committed in the eyes of this unjust law victimless crimes, the wheel of negative social justice reforms is never stationary, it continues to roll until to encroaches on other rights abrogated by reason of some moral law or code – we already see that our leadership have to compelled to speak up for victims of sexually violence, they probably will not readily condemn violence against others as a result of this bill as we inure ourselves from the plight of others.

Acknowledgements

The basic document of the Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2011 the news reports of the debating the bill appeared on ThisDayLive and The Nation newspapers.

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