(New York, February 27, 2007) - A pending law in Nigeria that would impose brutal penalties on all relationships, activism, advocacy, and shows of affection among lesbian and gay people violates basic religious principles of respect for human dignity and life, a group of more than 250 Christian leaders said in a letter to the Nigerian government today. The draconian bill - poised to pass possibly as early as this week - 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.
"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. "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."
The bill is entitled "Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006," but goes much further: it would attack all lesbian and gay individuals, families and human rights. The bill would provide 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.
"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.
The letter by Christian leaders denounces the impact the law would have on lesbian and gay individuals and families, and on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. It also underscores Nigeria's international legal obligations to fundamental freedoms. The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights affirms the equality of all people. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nigeria acceded to in 1993, protects the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders says that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: b) to meet or assemble peacefully; and b) to form, join and participate in nongovernmental organizations, associations or groups."
"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."
For more information, please contact:
David Lohman (Minneapolis, Minnesota): +1-612-821-4397
For related material, please see:
* Letter from Christian leaders in condemnation of Nigerian legislation (February 28, 2007).
* Statement from United Nations independent experts on proposed Nigerian ban on same-sex relationships (February 23, 2007).
* Coalition letter to President Obasanjo regarding bill to criminalize gay rights (March 23, 2006).
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. See letter for full list of clergy signatories.