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Nigeria gay activists speak out

Gay rights activists
Gay rights activist Rashidi Williams addresses Nigeria's National Assembly

Nigerian gay rights activists have told the country's lawmakers that a new bill to outlaw same sex marriage would lead to widespread human rights abuses.

The new law would mean prison sentences for gay people who live together, and anyone who "aids and abets" them.

The plea by activists was made to a public committee of the National Assembly which is discussing the bill.

It is already illegal to have gay sex in Nigeria but the new law would extend police powers to arrest suspects.

"This bill is not necessary, we see no reason why people should be criminalised," Rashidi Williams, 23, of the Queer Alliance of Nigeria told the committee.

"I did not choose to be gay. It is trial enough to live in this country, we should not create more laws to make us suffer," he said.

'Fabric of society'

Under the new law anyone who has "entered into a same gender marriage contract" would be liable to be jailed for three years.

The bill defines a same sex marriage as gay people living together.

Children protest against same sex marriage
If you are not careful and allow the institution of the family to break down, the consequences will be on all of us
Mayor Eze
Nigerian National Assembly member
Anyone who "witnesses, abet and aids the solemnization" of a same gender marriage would face five years in prison, or a fine.

Activists say the law does not make sense because anyone who aides and abets people to live together would face a tougher sentence than the couple concerned.

The law would make it easier for the police to arrest suspects, and criminalise anyone working in a human rights organisation that dealt with gay rights, they say.

Church groups spoke in favour of the bill, saying that gay marriage risked "tearing the fabric of society".

"In the Bible it says homosexuals are criminals," Pius Akubo of the Daughters of Sarah church told lawmakers.

Rev Patrick Alumake told the National Assembly the top leadership of the Catholic church in Nigeria supported the bill wholeheartedly.

"There are wild, weird, ways of life that are affecting our own culture very negatively, we have people who either by way of the media or travelling around the world have allowed new ideas which are harmful to our nation and our belief," he said.

The bill's sponsor, House of Representatives member Mayor Eze, said the bill was necessary to protect the family.

"If you are not careful and allow the family institution to break down, and the consequences will be on all of us," he said.

'Abomination'

Children wearing T-shirts that said "Same sex marriage is un-natural and un-African", and "same sex marriage is an abomination" stood in the aisles of the committee room.

Ekaette Ettang, of the Daughters of Sarah church who provided the T-shirts, denied they were inciting hatred against homosexuals.

"We don't hate gay people, but this is the public's opinion and we have the right to speak," she said.

Activists say gay people in Nigeria face violence from their families and neighbours every day.

Two years ago, a woman went into hiding in the northern Kano State after reports that she had organised a wedding for four women - which she strongly denied.

Also that year 18 men were arrested in the northern city of Bauchi and accused of participating in a "gay wedding".

A Sharia court dismissed the charges and they were charged with the lesser offence of vagrancy.

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