The Nigerian Parliament passed a sweeping anti-gay bill last week. I’ve read a bunch of stories about the legislation – most with a headline something like “Nigeria votes to ban same-sex marriage”. And that’s what the bill did. Under the legislation “persons that entered into a same-gender marriage or civil union contract commit an offence and are jointly liable on conviction to a term of 14 years imprisonment each.”
Yep. 14 years in prison. It’s shocking. But it is not the worst part. It also says: “any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations, or directly or indirectly makes a public show of same-sex amorous relationship, commits an offence and shall be liable to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”
In most of the articles and comments I’ve read on the piece this has been the aside. The headline is that same-sex marriage has been banned, and the other parts of the bill fall to the bottom of the article.
Let’s think about this. In Nigeria, homosexuality is now both illegal, with some parts of the country administering the death penalty, but it is now also illegal to start any organisation or group that may want to campaign to overturn these laws. People in Nigeria can die for being queer and can now be sent to prison for wanting that law to change. But what do we in the Western World see – “they’ve banned same-sex marriage”.
It feels like we’ve become so singularly obsessed with same-sex marriage that we’ve forgotten that marriage means absolutely nothing if homosexuality is illegal. It means nothing if, as is in the case in a number of countries around the world, you can be sentenced to death for being queer. It means nothing if you can’t openly talk about, or organise around, your sexuality and trying to improve queer rights. These are the real assaults on basic human rights.
I’m not saying that no one cares and no one is doing anything on these issues. I’m not saying we have to stop fighting at home on our own issues. But sometimes we have to remember that while we’re fighting for same-sex marriage people are literally dying for being queer. And I feel we have to ask, are we doing enough about it?