Making homophobia legal in Africa

A disturbing new law in Nigeria establishes sweeping restrictions on homosexuality and has already led to dozens of arrests.

Even before the law went into effect, it was illegal to engage in same-sex relations. But the new law goes further, prohibiting civil unions and same-sex marriages and threatening to slap a 10-year prison sentence on anyone who officiates at such a marriage. The law bans public displays of affection between people of the same sex, outlaws gay support organizations and makes it illegal for gay groups to meet. In a country with the world's third-largest number of people living with HIV or AIDS, the law could put serious obstacles in the way of health groups doing outreach to gay populations and possibly even outlaw programs providing education on HIV prevention.

As U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, rarely has there been legislation "that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights."

Africa is notoriously homophobic; 38 countries on the continent ban same-sex relations. Many of those bans are based on colonial-era sodomy laws, while others derive their authority from Islamic law or other religious and socially conservative ideologies. The initial version of Uganda's infamous anti-gay bill — which was not ultimately enacted — would have authorized the death penalty for some repeat offenders.

But Africa is not alone. Less draconian but still unjustifiable is the Russian ban on giving "propaganda" (otherwise known as information) about gay relationships to minors. In advance of the Olympics, President Vladimir Putin tried to reassure gays and lesbians that they were welcome in the country by saying they had nothing to fear as long as they left children alone — as if being gay meant being a predator.

Such laws violate human rights. But it is worth noting that state sodomy laws were still enforceable in the U.S. as recently as 2003, when the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Lawrence vs. Texas. And only in the last decade has U.S. public opinion shifted from disapproving of gay marriage to supporting it. Ironically — and shamefully — some conservative evangelical Christians who lost ground with their anti-gay gospel here have exported it to African countries, including Uganda.

No one has the moral high ground. Every country must work harder to create tolerant societies that respect the rights of all.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Nelson Mandela's uneven legacy
    Nelson Mandela's uneven legacy

    Nelson Mandela's selfless brand of leadership surprised the world and won him universal accolades during his lifetime. After being confined to Robben Island for most of his 27 years in prison, Mandela became South Africa's first black president, and his goal was always reconciliation rather than...

  • How to cut militias off from gold and mineral mines in Congo

    Few parts of the world have been more ravaged by war and violence over the last two decades than the Democratic Republic of Congo. That's been made possible, in part, by the mines in the eastern part of the country that offer up tin, tungsten and tantalum — the 3Ts, as they're known — and gold....

  • South African students must take movement to society for real progress
    South African students must take movement to society for real progress

    On April 9, a larger-than-life bronze statue of Cecil John Rhodes was removed from its perch at the University of Cape Town. Before the statue was hoisted into a truck and taken away, the black university students who had successfully demanded its removal washed it, symbolically, with the blood...

  • Catholics, Africans, gays and the race card
    Catholics, Africans, gays and the race card

    The Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops that ended over the weekend was a remarkable exercise in transparency, with liberal and conservative prelates openly sparring over whether the church should adopt a more welcoming approach to gays and to Catholics who divorced and remarried.

  • The World Bank's broken promise to 'do no harm'
    The World Bank's broken promise to 'do no harm'

    Seven years ago, the World Bank set out to help preserve Kenya's Embobut Forest for future generations. As part of the Natural Resource Management Project, it spent millions to mitigate erosion, prevent landslides and improve the administration of water resources.

  • 5 hope-and-change take-aways from Nigeria's election
    5 hope-and-change take-aways from Nigeria's election

    You probably saw the headline — a successful transfer of power in Nigeria. For the first time since its independence, Africa's most populous and economically powerful country voted an incumbent president out of office, defying all expectations. At a time when democratic good news is hard to come...

Comments
Loading