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Nigeria to Outlaw Same-Sex Marriage

Nigeria's government is planning to introduce legislation specifically banning same-sex relationships and marriages. The ban would include criminal penalties of five years in jail for anyone who participates in a same-sex wedding—whether they are the bride, groom, or officiant—as well as for those who participate in public advocacy supporting the rights of people who are lesbian or gay.

According to Frank Nweke, Information Minister of Nigeria, the government is introducing the “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006” in order to take a “pre-emptive step” because of recent developments elsewhere in the world. “In most cultures in Nigeria , same-sex relationships, sodomy and the likes of that, is regarded as abominable,” said Nweke. Same-sex sexual activity is already illegal throughout Nigeria . In northern areas of the country governed by Islamic Sharia law, death by stoning is the legal punishment for violating the law. The proposed same-sex marriage ban would go even further than similar laws in other countries as it would also ban “any form of protest to press for rights or recognition” of people who are lesbian or gay, according to Justice Minister Bayo Ojo.1

Conservative leaders in Nigeria are working to generate support for the proposal, tapping into widespread homophobia and framing same-sex relationships as an exclusively Western phenomenon. For example, the head of Nigeria's Anglican Church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, has been a vocal opponent of same-sex unions and of allowing gay men to join the priesthood. President Olusegun Obasanjo has publicly expressed support for the country's Anglican leadership's stance on same-sex partnership. At the end of 2004, he told a conference of Nigerian bishops that, “such a tendency is clearly un-Biblical, unnatural and definitely un-African.”2

Human rights activists and organizations from Nigeria , other parts of Africa , and around the world, however, have been urging President Obasanjo to disavow the bill, which they say contravenes international law and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights both of which ensure rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The groups also state that the bill undermines Nigeria's struggle to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and that the Nigerian government “will damage its own prevention efforts by driving populations already suffering stigma for their sexual conduct further underground—not only making it more difficult to reach them with outreach and education efforts, but potentially criminalizing civil society groups engaged in HIV prevention.”3

As part of its efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and improve sexual health of young people in the country, the Nigerian Federal Ministry for Education has already adopted Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Nigeria . The Guidelines demonstrate a commitment to teaching tolerance for people with differing sexual values and lifestyles and encouraging democratic responsibility in influencing legislation dealing with sexual issues.4 This positive framework for educating young Nigerians would be contradicted by the passage of a ban that both condemns same-sex relationships and undermines democratic participation.

The U.S. government has openly opposed the ban because of its restrictions on free speech. Despite the Bush Administration's own push for a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage domestically and laws such as the Global Gag Rule and the anti-prostitution pledge under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that impinge on free speech internationally, the U.S. State Department recently released a statement condemning the proposed Nigerian legislation. The statement explained that the State Department was:

[C]oncerned by reports of legislation in Nigeria that would restrict or prohibit citizens from assembling, organizing, holding events or rallies, and participating in ceremonies of religious union, based upon sexual orientation and gender identity... The freedoms of speech, association, expression, assembly, and religion are long-standing international commitments and are universally recognized. Nigeria , as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has assumed important obligations on these matters. We expect the Government of Nigeria to act in a manner consistent with those obligations.5 

To download the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Nigeria, please visit:

To learn more about how the Guidelines were developed and subsequently adopted, please visit:


  1. “ Nigeria to outlaw same-sex unions,” BBC News , 19 January 2006 , accessed 14 April 2006 , <>.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Human Rights Watch “ Nigeria : Obasanjo Must Withdraw Bill to Criminalize Gay Rights,” Press Release published 23 March 2006 , accessed 14 April 2006 , <>.
  4. Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Nigeria , Action Health Incorporated and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (1996), accessed 16 April 2006, <>.
  5. Ibid.

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