Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Nigerian Legislation prohibiting Same-sex Marriages

Courtesy of the Thinking Anglicans website, I have copied (within the limitations of HTML) the legislation prohibiting same-sex marriages which appears to be behind the controversy over the stance of the Church of Nigeria. I have not had time yet to read the submission of the Church of Nigeria, but that is available from the same web-page.

I then discovered that someone else has made a far better job of the transcript here, but hey, I'd done the work, and you're reading this blog, so why go elsewhere? (Actually, the other guy has made a much better job of it.)

Now here is my reaction to the legislation, not the Church of Nigeria's report.

A society may, for its own reasons, choose to legislate against same-sex marriage. It is worth bearing in mind that they are not legal in the UK, though civil partnerships are. If a thing is illegal, then there must, of necessity be penalties. If I've done the correct currency conversion, the group fine of N50,000 is equivalent to about £240. Over against this, the individual fine of N1,000 is a rather derisory £4.76, so I may have got this wrong!

The prison sentences may seem too severe. However, in this country maximum sentences are rarely imposed, and I wonder if the same is true in Nigeria. I simply don't know.

The legislation does also illustrate the problem of drafting laws in a language which is not your first.

The crucial question is, of course, whether such legislation should exist at all, but that is something which will obviously be debated.

Revd John P Richardson
16 March 2009

Be it Enacted by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as follows:

(1) Marriage Contract entered between persons of same Gender is hereby prohibited in Nigeria.

(2) Marriages Contract entered between persons of same gender are invalid
And shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.

(3) Marriage Contract entered between persons of same gender by virtue a certificate issued by a foreign country shall be void in Nigeria, and any benefits accruing there from by virtue of the certificate shall not be enforced by any court of law in Nigeria.

—(1) Marriage entered between persons of same Gender shall not be solemnized in any place of worship either Church or Mosque in Nigeria.

(2) No marriage certificate issued to parties of same sex marriage in Nigeria.

3. Only marriage contracted between a man and a woman either under Islamic Law, Customary Law and Marriage Act is recognized as valid in Nigeria.

4.—(1) Persons that entered into a same gender marriage contract commit
an offence and are jointly liable on conviction to a term of 3 years imprisonment each

(2) Any persons or group of persons that witness, abet and aids the solemnization of a same gender marriage contract commits an offence and liable on conviction to—

(a) if an individual to a term of 5 years imprisonment or a group of persons to a fine of N2,000 of both,

(b) if a group of persons to a fine of N50,000 only.

5. The High Court of a State shall have jurisdiction to entertain matter arising from the breach of the provision of this Bill.

6. In this Bill, unless the context otherwise requires—

“Marriage” here relates to a legal union entered between persons of opposite sex in accordance with the Marriage Act, Islamic and Customary Laws.

High Court” to include High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

“Same Gender Marriage” means the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of leaving (sic) together as husband and wife or for
other purposes of same sexual relationship.

7. This Bill may be cited as Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2008.

Explanatory Note

This Bill seeks to prohibit marriage between persons of same gender, and witnessing same, and provide appropriate solemnization of the marriage penalties thereof.

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  1. Oh, good, John
    There's nothing there to trouble Archbishop Akinola's conscience.
    All is well.

  2. Well, Peter, I wonder what there is in this legislation that should be troubling his conscience - or ours, come to that.

    Admitted, it threatens a quite hefty prison sentence, but it is quite limited and simply prohibits what our own legislation does not allow.

    From a theological perspective, it makes illegal something which God would not (presumably!) approve, and which the Anglican Communion has also rejected.

    The questions would seem to be threefold:

    1. Should a state enact such legislation?
    2. Are the penalties appropriate?
    3. Should the Church approve?

    The answers are not necessarily simple, but they are equally not necessarily "No".

  3. Oh, I think it's pretty clear in respect of (3)! Any church whose primate has signed up to the following statement at Dromantine, 2005 should not be approving of the envisaged penalties as appropriate:

    "We continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship."

    Of course, it could be okay to agree to one thing at a meeting and then do something else when back home. My knowledge of acceptable Anglican behaviour is always open to new learnings!

  4. Dear Peter, on saying one thing at Primates' meetings and doing another, I think TEC is well ahead of the game - though that does not justify others doing the same.

    On the question of appropriate penalties for breaking the law, this is a difficult area. First, one has to judge that the law itself is right and just.

    It seems to me there is nothing in our faith to suggest that we ought to support same-sex marriages.

    It is surely not contentious that a state should legislate against something we believe to be a sin (Romans 13:4 comes to mind).

    We are left with the question as to whether a maximum prison term of 3-5 years is unjustified in this case of this particular law.

    I would say that the law itself is not a "victimisation" of "human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex", though it is clearly driven by a view that same-sex sex is anathema. But then we come back to the point that it is (arguably) also anathema to God.

    One of the difficulties we must admit as Judaeo-Christians is that the Law of Moses imposed the death penalty for such behaviour. Does that then mean it was 'oppressive' or that it 'victimized' the person? If it does, then we have a great deal of theological work to do. If it doesn't, then we also have work to do, but perhaps a different theological work.

  5. Hi John

    Just a comment on the legislation. Whilst it may seem reasonable that a marriage contract entered into between persons of the same gender should be deemed unlawful and hence void (a position which many jurisdictions take) it is another thing entirely to impose criminal penalties (especially hefty prison sentences) on anyone puporting to carry out such action. It is probably the latter point which appears to many to be objectionable, not the former. Indeed if a marriage contract were unlawful and void, no benefit would accrue to anybody purporting to enter into such a contract, and hence any such action would be (under law) meaningless.

    Iain McColl, Bristol.

  6. Hi John
    We know little about the experience of ancient Israelites under the Law of Moses. To draw conclusions about oppression and victimization in the OT period is notoriously difficult.

    In the current situation in Nigeria we know that legislation against 'gay marriage' with strong penalties is being supported by the Anglican church with a crusading zeal against homosexuality. This frames a context in which oppression and victimization of people is more rather than less likely. My question through these comments, mutatis mutandis, concerns whether the Nigerian Anglican church should be framing such a context or subverting it?

    It is possible to be against wrongdoing while upholding human dignity. In the current economic climate, for example, governments are going to crack down on illegal immigrant labourers. The church has no reason not to support laws governing immigration and every reason to urge governments to treat people caught under such laws humanely.

    Back to Nigeria: the Dromantine statement heightens the obligation of Anglican churches around the globe to treat homosexuals with dignity, care, and mercy. Such treatment, incidentally, is coherent with the love of God to unfaithful (i.e. disobedient to the Law of Moses) Israel.

  7. "A society may, for its own reasons, choose to legislate against same-sex marriage. It is worth bearing in mind that they are not legal in the UK, though civil partnerships are."
    Do you really think that's true?

    [Cribbing from Wikipedia...] The Civil Partnership Act 2004, gave same-sex couples rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage. Civil Partners are entitled to the same property rights as married opposite-sex couples, the same exemption as married couples on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits, and also the ability to get parental responsibility for a partner's children, as well as responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one's partner and their children, tenancy rights, full life insurance recognition, next-of-kin rights in hospitals, etc.

    If we apply the 'duck test' (If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck) to this, then how is this not marriage?

  8. Dear RobHu,

    There are two significant differences between marriage and a civil partnership. One is that they are called different things - which might sound like a quibble, but was very important in the 'debate' stage. The government was adamant that this was not 'gay marriage', and though one could (cynically) take the "they would say that, wouldn't they?" approach, I think nevertheless one must admit this still represents a difference (albeit, I agree, very marginal). I'm not saying I'm wholly persuaded by this line, but it was part of the principle involved.

    The second, much more importantly, is that there is no required sexual component for a civil partnership to be valid, whereas there is for marriage. In law, a marriage can (as I'm sure you're aware) be annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. A civil partnership cannot.

    This, I think, is a substantive difference, which moves the civil partnership into the category of 'other bird'.

    Thanks for your contribution.

  9. The debate is raging because, some of the debaters see the evolving same-sex marriage scourge on humanity and argue along the world view. From Judeo-Christian view, we know that same sex-marriage is evil.for 400 years the amorites were giving the long rope of God's grace to change from the abominable practice and they refused. God ordered their destruction. The same thing will happen again. No amount of theological philosophy will change the judgement that is coming on our society.