Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan confirmed signing a controversial anti-gay bill called the "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act" into law on Monday. Despite what its name implies, the law—which was passed by the national assembly last May and contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison—doesn't just ban same-sex marriages. It also criminalizes participation in LGBT groups and public displays of same-sex affection. Anti-gay sentiment and homosexual persecution are widespread in much of sub-Saharan Africa, Reuters explains: Under existing Nigerian federal law, sodomy is punishable by jail, but this bill legislates for a much broader crackdown on homosexuals and lesbians, who already live a largely underground existence. … While European countries, most recently France, have moved to offer same-sex couples the same legal rights enjoyed by heterosexuals, many African countries are seeking to tighten laws against homosexuality. Britain and some other Western countries have threatened to cut aid to governments that pass laws persecuting homosexuals, a threat that has helped hold back or scupper such legislation in aid-dependent nations like Uganda and Malawi. But they have little leverage over Nigeria, whose budget is funded by its 2-million-barrel-per-day oil output.Dozens have already been arrested as the new law has come into effect. In addition to putting Nigeria's LGBT citizens in danger of detention, human rights advocates are concerned that the act will jeopardize vital medical programs combating HIV in the gay commmunity.
Danayit Musse is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.