In a country whose people are divided almost equally between Christian and Muslim faiths, all Nigerian religious leaders seem to come together around a single issue: the persecution of homosexuals. A sodomy conviction carries a 14-year prison sentence under federal law, and homosexuality is punishable by death in the 12 states that practice Islamic law. In the most dramatic example, 18 young men in the northern city of Bauchi were arrested for supposed cross-dressing in 2007, only to later be charged with sodomy -- an offense that, in the Islamic courts of northern Nigeria, could have incurred execution by stoning. (Luckily, they were later released after international pressure was brought to bear.)
Despite the general agreement among faiths, it's the Anglican Church that has been particularly outspoken against homosexuality in Nigeria. When the international Episcopal Church split over whether to allow openly gay men to serve as priests, it was Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola who conservatives turned to as a leading light for their splinter sect. As Akinola wrote, "homosexuality is flagrant disobedience to God, which enables people to pervert God's ordained sexual expression with the opposite sex. In this way, homosexuals have missed the mark; they have shown themselves to be trespassers of God's divine laws."
The Nigerian government is more than happy to defend these views, which remain widespread. In 2006, the country's ambassador to the United Nations said in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council: "The notion that executions for offences such as homosexuality and lesbianism is excessive is judgmental rather than objective. What may be seen by some as disproportional penalty in such serious offences and odious conduct may be seen by others as appropriate and just punishment."
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