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Nigeria’s anti-gay law spreads fear

31 January 2014

AFTER the passing of anti-gay laws in Nigeria described as "draconian" by the UN, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to all Primates of the Anglican Communion, and to the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, recalling the Communion's commitment to caring for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

The letter, due to be sent on Wednesday, recalls the Dromantine communiqué issued in 2005 after a meeting of the Communion's Primates (News, 4 March, 2005), which stated that "The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.

"We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give - pastoral care and friendship."

This month, the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in Nigeria, which entails a 14-year prison sentence for anyone found guilty of engaging in same-sex relationships, and states that anyone who "administers, witnesses, screens, abets and aids" a same-sex union can be imprisoned for ten years.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said that she has "rarely...seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights."

This month, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, refused to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which provides for life imprisonment for homosexual acts.

On Monday, Davis Mac-iyalla, a gay Nigerian Anglican who has taken refuge in the UK after receiving death threats, said: "People are calling on Western religious leaders to please say something and talk to the African bishops who are publicly supporting these draconian laws." Life was "very frightening" for LGBT people.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International's Nigeria researcher, Makmid Kamara, said: "The Church and other religious groups have been very influential in supporting the passing of this Bill... If you can get very reputable religious leaders in the UK to speak out and reach out to the religious community, that would be a significant boost to the current calls being made inside and outside Nigeria."

The chairman of GAFCON, the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Eliud Wabukala, was highly critical of the Archbishops' letter. He said on Friday that it had "served to encourage those who want to normalise homosexual lifestyles in Africa and has fuelled prejudice against African Anglicans."

He cited the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution against same-sex relations, and indicated that pastoral care and a moral standpoint had to be held in tension. "Christians should always show particular care for those who are vulnerable, but this cannot be separated from the whole fabric of biblical moral teaching in which the nature of marriage and family occupy a central place."

The statement distinguished between sexual orientation and sexual practice, which was declared by Lambeth '98 to be inconsistent with scripture. "We  are committed to biblical sexual morality and to biblical pastoral care, so we wholeheartedly stand by the assurance given in the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution that those who experience same-sex attraction are 'loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ'."

The day before, the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, had said that the Church of Uganda was "grateful" to the Archbishops for the reminder of the Dromantine Communiqué by Archbishop Welby and Dr Sentamu. It was committed to being "a safe place for individuals, who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness, to seek help and healing". 

But he, too, reminded the Archbishops of the strictures of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Referring to the discussions in the UK about the Pilling report, he warned against "legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions".

Archbishop Ntagli highlighted amendments made to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda "to remove the death penalty, to reduce sentencing guidelines through a principle of proportionality, and to remove the clause on reporting homosexual behaviour, as we had recommended in our 2010 position statement on the Bill".

This 2010 statement also states that the Church of Uganda "appreciates" the Bill's objective "to prohibit and penalise homosexual behaviour and related practices in Uganda as they constitute a threat to the traditional family".

Letter, page 17

AS THE date of the first UK gay weddings comes closer, the UK Government has launched a consultation on civil partnerships.

The first same-sex couples who want to get married will be able to do so on 29 March. The legislation will also allow those currently in civil partnerships to convert them into marriages. Civil partnerships will remain an option for gay couples, but not for heterosexuals.

The Government's consultation is asking individuals and organisations what they think about the future of civil partnerships, now that gay and lesbian couples can get married.

It notes that some are calling for civil partnerships to be abolished entirely, whereas others believe that they shouldbe opened up to straightcouples.

Meanwhile, a gay couple are threatening the Government with legal action after discovering they will only be able to get married from 29 March if they first dissolve their civil partnership.

The Government has not yet decided how civil partners can convert their partnerships into marriages, and a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that the procedure would be finalised only later this year.

But Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice, who entered a civil partnership in 2008, are considering launching a judicial review, because they argue it is unfair to force them to get the equivalent of a divorce before they can marry. Mr Atwal-Brice told The Guardian: "There are legal and practical difficulties if we were forced to divorce."

With some clergy likely to enter same-sex marriages, the House of Bishops will meet next month to discuss what approach to take when gay marriage becomes legal in March.


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