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is asked to oppose
Washington, D.C.--U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been asked by 32 members of Congress to oppose legislation in Nigeria that would criminalize gay and lesbian “relationships” as simple as having dinner together, as well as the mere act of witnessing a same-sex union. So far, Rice has been silent.
The letter was initiated by lesbian and gay Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Barney Frank of Massachusetts. They were joined by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, House Committee on Foreign Affairs chair Tom Lantos of California, and 28 other Democrats. The letter was also signed by one Republican, Chris Shays of Connecticut.
First-term Ohio Democrat Betty Sutton of Akron also signed it.
The proposed Nigerian measure outlaws same-sex relationships and weddings and punishes those who witness, aid or abet same-sex unions, including members of the clergy. It also forbids advocacy groups supporting lesbian and gay people and criminalizes any act of support for gays and lesbian Nigerians.
The crimes carry a penalty of five years in prison.
The measure, called the Same Sex Marriage Act, is expected to be enacted before Nigeria’s general election on April 21.
The members of Congress asked Rice to go beyond her February, 2006, statement expressing concern about the measure, and apply more formal diplomatic pressure.
“We believe a strong statement from the State Department at this critical juncture condemning the legislation and opposing any further action on the bill will not only send a strong signal to the Nigerian government, but also further U.S. policy objectives in protecting gay and lesbian human rights globally,” the letter reads.
“Nigeria, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has assumed important obligations on these matters,” they continued. “[The United States] expect[s] the government of Nigeria to act in a manner consistent with those obligations.”
A Nigerian LGBT group is warning that the proposed law is so draconian that it could result in a potential flood of gay Nigerians fleeing to other countries.
"Already we are seeing an increase in homophobic behavior and attacks, because people feel they can get away with it,” Davis Mac-Iyalla, the head of Changing Attitude Nigeria, told the U.K. Gay News. “Unless the government tones down its language and cancels the bill, we are going to see a flood of refugees as people flee for their lives.”
Nigeria is a West African nation that was once a British colony. It is the most populous country in Africa, and modeled its federal republic after the government of the U.S. It is also a major petroleum exporter and a member of OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The nation’s Anglican bishop, Peter Akinola, leads an effort in the world Anglican Communion to make the Episcopal Church back away from its pro-gay stances or leave the communion.
In addition to governmental corruption brought to the country by the oil revenue, Nigeria is also noted for its runaway AIDS epidemic, which the signers say the marriage ban will exacerbate.
“It’s important that the United States of America go on record opposing discrimination against LGBT people in Nigeria,” said Baldwin.
“Human rights of life, liberty, and security of person should have no border and no nationality, and no exceptions for one’s sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Sutton’s office did not comment on the letter by press time. The State Department also did not return calls for comment.