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Rev. Ijeoma Ajibade Headshot

Nigerian Ban on Gay Marriage

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GAY CIVIL CEREMONY
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I am proud to be Nigerian and Christian. My outlook on life is based on hope, love and a belief that, however long it takes, the best will eventually triumph over the worst. I love my people.

We have an optimism about our country, and a beautiful and rich culture, but sometimes the good things about my country and culture are shrouded by darkness. There are things that happen in Nigeria that make me lose hope, that perplex me and make me angry. I am a mother and I want my son to love his country as I do, and to be proud of who he is. I do not want my son to have to associate his Nigerian heritage with something as ugly and unloving as homophobia.

I am not lesbian or bisexual. I am a heterosexual woman whose passion and interest is rooted in the principles of love, justice and respect for human life.

As a priest, I believe in what the church describes as the 'Imago Dei' - the image of God in a human being. All of us are created in the image of God and this is what makes our lives so precious. We are all human.

When I was asked to sign the online petition against the proposed law banning same sex marriage, I did so immediately. Why?

Not because I think it stands a good chance of becoming law. The same legislation has been proposed twice before in the last five years and has not succeeded, though of course we must remain vigilant. And not because the right to marry is a fundamental demand of lesbians and gay men in Nigeria. It isn't.

Homosexuality is illegal in my country for both men and women, with penalties of up to 14 years in jail in the southern part of Nigeria and the horrific possibility of being stoned to death where sharia law is enforced in the north.

When you are under that kind of threat just because of the way you were born, then seeking marriage equality is a very long way from your top priority.

Same sex marriage may be a current demand in the United States, or in the UK where I now live, but it isn't in Nigeria. Nigerian LGBT people have never asked for marriage, what they have asked for is respect and acknowledgment of their fundamental human rights and I believe that they should be listened to. They too are made in the image of God. They too are human and should be allowed to live without fear of death, harassment or discrimination.

The people proposing this legislation whether in parliament or in the church, know that it will associate LGBT people in Nigeria with something that seems alien to the majority of the population. It helps them claim, with not an once of truth, that homosexuality itself is somehow 'un-African'.

It also helps them portray LGBT Nigerians as less than human, leaving them open to persecution, violence and discrimination. There are many social and economic issues that the Nigerian government should be addressing. Same sex marriage is not one of them.

Once again LGBT people are being marginalised and forced onto the defensive, having to fight an image of what it means to be gay or lesbian, a false image that is painted by their enemies. In all this the true image, the fact that LGBT people like are created in the image of God and are human, is ignored.

I am one of the founders of the Kaleidoscope Trust, a new international organisation based in London. Our aim is to help individuals and activists start to frame the argument for the universality of human rights on their own terms.

We want people in countries like Nigeria to see their fellow LGBT citizens for what they really are - normal Africans who would like nothing more than the freedom to live their own lives, unmolested and unthreatened by the criminal law or the condemnation of the church or state.

I didn't join the 'kiss-in' in London yesterday, but I share the hopes and prayers of those who did.

We all want this bill to go the way of those that came before it. The much bigger struggle is to make it harder for such legislation to be proposed again in the future. This cannot be done if the Nigerian government continues to wage this kind of war against its own people.

Before we can even begin to think about winning the debate about homosexuality in Africa, we have to try to change its terms. And the optimist in me says we can do that once we begin to recognise the humanity in others because we know we have the truth on our side.

If you'd like to help the Kaleidoscope Trust in its work, please visit the website: www.kaleidoscopetrust.com

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