On January 7, 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law new draconian anti-gay legislation.
The new Nigerian legislation mandates: a 14-year prison sentence for anyone entering a same-sex union, and a 10-year prison term for “a person or group of persons who supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings.” Public displays of affection between gay men and lesbians are also criminalized.
Despite the fact that Pope Francis, has struck a charitable tone toward gays and lesbians, the Roman Catholic bishops of Nigeria appear to be socio-sexually tone deaf and blind to contemporary understandings of human sexuality.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. About 48% of its more than 170 million people are Muslims and close to 50% Christians, out of whom about 24% are Roman Catholics. The country has 9 archdioceses and 43 dioceses. The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria is Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, 55 years old, and a strong supporter of Goodluck Jonathan’s repressive anti-gay legislation.
As the New York Times reports, since Nigeria’s president signed the harsh law criminalizing homosexuality, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas, and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished.
Key members of the Nigerian Roman Catholic hierarchy, however, have fully supported the country’s new law. In a January 2014 letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his leadership in signing the new legislation.
“We commend you for this courageous and wise decision,” the archbishop’s letter states, “and pray that God will continue to bless, guide and protect you and your administration against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices, that have continued to debase the purpose of God for man in the area of creation and morality, in their own countries.”
Fortunately not all African bishops side with the narrow-minded Nigerians. A few days after Archbishop Kaigama’s pastoral letter, a strongly worded editorial in the The Southern Cross, a newspaper run jointly by the bishops of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, took aim at the new Nigerian law, calling on the Catholic Church in Africa “to stand with the powerless” and “sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalizing homosexuals.” The Southern Cross, however, speaks for the minority.
In South Africa gay marriage and same-sex adoption are legal (and Mozambique and Botswana have outlawed forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation) but harassment and attacks against gays in Africa have surged over the past decade. Gay men and woman say discrimination and danger persist throughout Africa. They have trouble getting housing, jobs, and even medical care. They continually face extortion and abuse from police.
Same-sex acts are illegal in 31 sub-Saharan countries, and punishment ranges from years in prison to the death penalty.
The push for tougher anti-gay legislation and policing across Africa in recent years has been accompanied by mob violence, the murders of activists, and street protests.
Defenders of anti-gay legislation in Africa, like Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, emphasize that homosexuality is a threat to society; and that anti-gay laws are about upholding fundamental religious and cultural values.
For further reflection:
“In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.”
Joseph Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, July 31, 2003