Senators in Nigeria voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would criminalize same-sex marriage with prison terms of more than a decade for couples and those who help them marry.
The bill would penalize same-sex couples who marry with up to 14 years in prison, according to the Associated Press, while witnesses and others who assist them could be sentenced to 10 years. The House of Representatives still needs to pass the bill, and President Goodluck Jonathan has to sign it, but supports for the measure appears widespread in deeply religious Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa.
Same-sex marriages and homosexuality already are illegal in the country, where in some parts of the north, gays and lesbians can be stoned to death under Islamic Shariah law. Countries throughout Africa have sought to criminalize homosexuality, most notably in Uganda, where an internationally decried measure would impose the death penalty for some gays and lesbians. Lawmakers in Nigeria have now tried three times to pass the law banning same-sex marriage, and a similar bill is being considered in Cameroon.
The Nigerian bill has drawn sharp opposition from international human rights organizations that, according to the AP, sent a letter to President Goodluck earlier this month. Advocates fear that the bill could hinder HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts, stir violent antigay sentiments, and criminalize couples who live together without being married.