Human rights groups have expressed dismay and outrage at the news that Nigeria’s Senate has voted in favour of a bill which will criminalise gay marriage, gay advocacy groups and same-sex public displays of affection.

It will make it illegal to register gay clubs or organisations, as well as criminalising the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly”.

Under the proposed law, couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

“The bill will expand Nigeria’s already draconian punishments for consensual same-sex conduct and set a precedent that would threaten all Nigerians’ rights to privacy, equality, free expression, association and to be free from discrimination,” said Erwin van der Borght, the director of Amnesty International’s Africa program.

The bill, now much more wide-ranging than its initial draft, must be passed by Nigeria’s House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan (pictured) before becoming law.

However, public opinion and lawmakers’ calls for even harsher penalties show the widespread support for the measure in the deeply religious nation.

“Such elements in society should be killed,” said Senator Baba-Ahmed Yusuf Datti of the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change, drawing some murmurs of support from the gallery.

Gay sex has been banned since British colonial rule in Nigeria, but religious leaders in the country have long pushed for harsher penalties for homosexuality and supporters of gay men and women.

In September, the Anglican Primate of Nigeria called gays and lesbians “evil” at the wedding of tribal royal Princess Ewere Efeizomor, telling the room that God had created women as a “helpmates” for men.

“What is being known now as gay and homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan for human sexuality and procreation,” the Most Reverend Nicholas Okoh said.

“It is against the will of God, and nobody should encourage it, and those who do will earn for themselves the damnation of the Almighty.”

Commenting on the new development, George Broadhead, secretary of UK gay Humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust, said gays and lesbians already face open discrimination and abuse in a country divided by Christians and Muslims who almost uniformly oppose homosexuality.

“In the areas in Nigeria’s north where Islamic Sharia Law has been enforced for about a decade, gays and lesbians can face death by stoning,” he said.

“It seems that there is a very real threat that this barbaric bill will become law and if it does, Nigeria will become the most homophobic nation in Africa.

“It is clear that the impetus for such legislation has come from religious sources.”

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