The best of times, the worst of times

Last summer I wrote about a tale of two worlds - one where gay relationships are increasingly recognised and normalised, another where gays remain oppressed and, in some cases, laws are moving backwards.

While our Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 will shortly come into force, the President of Nigeria has, after a delay of two years, suddenly passed his country’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill.  This chilling legislation does a great deal more than outlaw gay marriage.  It also makes any display of gay affection a serious crime, punishable with a 10-year prison sentence:

"Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”

Peter Tatchell has a good briefing on the legislation here.

If we think this problem is confined to Africa and the Middle East, we need to think again.  Last week President Putin horribly linked homosexuality with paedophilia when he said that homosexuals would be welcome in Sochi for the Olympics but warned them against spreading "gay propaganda”.  "We don't have a ban on non-traditional sexual relations," he said.  "We have a ban on promoting homosexuality and paedophilia among minors ….  You can feel free in your relationships but leave children in peace."

Now, in our country, we read open-jawed about the UKIP councillor who believes that the recent floods have been visited on us because of David Cameron’s support for gay marriage.  He has since been suspended by his party.

30 years ago, according to the British Social Attitudes survey, 70 per cent of the British public thought that same-sex relationships were always, mostly or sometimes wrong.  That number has now halved to only 35 per cent.  That’s a huge and rapid change, and one that is almost certainly ongoing.

In many ways it's sobering to think that if you’re a gay couple and walk down a British street, one in every three people still disapproves of you.  But you can at least hold hands without being put in prison.  You can’t be discriminated against at work or when a service is provided to you.  The law will protect you against hate crime.  And now you can marry the partner you love.  Compare that to the life of a gay person in Nigeria, not just unable to express their sexuality, but living in fear of criminal sanction.

Far from showing any sign of regret, Nigeria’s legislature congratulates itself in comic style.  Speaking at the end of their session, the President of the Senate declared:

“Our self examination shows that the 7th Senate has maintained the lofty and patriotic tradition of stabilising the nation.  Our interventions continue to balance the polity and moderate national discourse.  Our strident insistence that things be done the right way in every facet of our national life, our abiding faith in our sworn responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution, our keen commitment and dedication to our oversight responsibilities, and our instinctive patriotism, all demonstrate very eloquently that legislators are the gatekeepers to the realm of the public good.”

Article II of the Commonwealth Charter, adopted in December 2012, declares its members’ opposition to “all forms of discrimination”.  Article IV emphasises “the need to promote tolerance, respect, understanding, moderation and religious freedom which are essential to the development of free and democratic societies.”  Nigeria’s anti-gay law is in flagrant breach of the Charter.  So what action will the Commonwealth now take?