Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Passage Imminent VIII

The Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) just announced their public support of Peter Akinola in a press conference in Abuja, condemning any group that might wish to make same-sex marriage lawful in Nigeria. As I've made clear, I don't wish to enter the debate on whether Nigeria should recognize same-sex marriage as long as we in the US are still having a democratic debate on the subject -- that is, if Nigerians decide that they don't wish to recognize same-sex marriage, there's not much I can do about it.

What's much more horrifying to me than the possibility that Nigeria should fail to enact pro-gay-marriage legislation (ha!) is that the current legislation radically abridges the right of gay and lesbian Nigerians to organize politically on their own behalf. But even worse than that has been the deafening silence of conservative American Anglicans (and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams) who are all too happy to acquiesce and rationalize Akionla's endorsement to maintain rhetorical advantage in the midst of the political fight of their lives.

Meanwhile, there's an interesting and heartening editorial in Nigeria's Vanguard (February 27) by Rotimi Fasan, that speaks to both the HIV/AIDS dimension of the legislation's purported rationale, as well as its "unAfrican" dimension [my emphasis]:
There can be no harm, I believe, in Nigerians taking a closer look at the matter. For whether we like it or not, situations around us will not permit us to remain impervious to the questions raised by the issues any longer. For whatever it was worth, let’s not forget there was a prominent, religious gay lobby, from Nigeria, at the Dar conference. As I pointed out above, that homosexuality is a closet issue is no reason to believe that the practice is totally alien in these parts. Like in South Africa where HIV positive men sleep with under-aged girls in the mistaken belief that sex with virgins cures HIV/AIDS, homosexual acts are, in certain cases, believed in our part of the world to confer mystical powers on its practitioners. In some cases, it is seen as the harbinger of great wealth.

It is a known fact that one of the reasons adduced for one of the bloodiest coups in Nigeria’s history was the alleged overwhelming presence of homosexuals in the government that was to be displaced. The April 22, 1990 coup, announced/led by Gideon Orka, was partly staged to oust the ‘homosexual’ regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Likewise, homosexuals supposedly populate the Yan Dauda cult. Thus, from whatever angle it is viewed, there are practising homosexuals among us. The essence of bringing discussion of homosexuality to the public domain is neither an attempt to offend the prudish sensibility of anybody nor engage in the prurient game of a voyeur. Rather it is to afford Nigerians an opportunity for a rational as opposed to a prejudiced response to the issue.

As I write this, a bill is being sponsored at the National Assembly to ban same sex relations. It was, last week, referred to the judicial committee of the Senate where some senators, led by Ibrahim Mantu, are totally opposed to any discussion of the matter. For them, discussing same sex relations, amounts to giving prominence to a culturally alien subject. But even as the debate goes on majority of Nigerians are, arguably, unaware of it. People like Mantu are, probably, afraid of Nigeria going the way of South Africa that has legislated in favour of same sex relations. But the question for me, however, is whether there is the slightest possibility of opening up avenues for a better understanding of homosexuality.
I can't speak to the size of the Nigerian constituency that holds Fasan's views, but it's good to hear someone in Nigeria publicly call for caution and rational discourse.

South Africa's Mail & Guardian covers the recent Tanzania conference from the perspective of those whom the legislation would affect the most, and from the perspective of the nominal "head" of the Anglican Communion:
The archbishop [Williams], who admits he may be unable to prevent schism in the 450-year-old church, said the public perception was that "we are a Church obsessed with sex".

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