FEATURE ARTICLE

E O EkeSunday, November 20, 2011
eoeke@aol.com


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CRIMINALISATION OF SAME SEX MARRIAGE
...AN ACT OF RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE AND DISCRIMINATION

t the moment a law that would criminalise same sex marriage is making its way through the Nigerian Senate. Unfortunately, it has been impossible to get a copy of the draft bill. If national sentiment is anything to go by, it would be criminalised. The views of Nigerians and most Africans on homosexuality are well known and it has been difficult to have an enlightened debate on the issue as the religious people who have contributed to this debate seem determined to view the issues only from a God based attribution system, condemn homosexuality and advocate for its criminalisation.


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On Friday 23 March 2007 a writer published an article in the Nigerian guardian newspaper which suggested that he supported the criminalization of homosexuality and same sex marriage. Before then, Bishop Akinola had rightly condemned, the act, but unwisely supported its criminalisation. I noted in 2007 that the writer described himself as a lawyer. I was particularly concerned that he was in a position to have a deeper understanding of the principles of justice, fundamental human rights and liberty of conscience but did not reflect these fundamentals in his view. His opinion was a classical undifferentiated religious view which sort to criminalize that which religion condemns. He quoted from the bible to support his position, in the same way Muslims quote from the Quran to support many things other enlightened people condemn, like cutting off the hands of thieves and other vengeful, severe, an eye for an eye approach to justice devoid of compassion and consideration for the factors that account for the behaviour they punish.

The Bible and the Quran describes homosexuality as a sin and Christians and Muslims subscribe to this view. This is the religious perspective. This way of looking at human behaviours does not take into account of the many moral, biological, social and psychological reasons that account for the behaviour. It fails to recognise the rights of homosexuals to exercise a choice they (religious people) consider as immoral. It also fails to reflect the fact that no human being has any right to punish behaviour simply because his religion condemns it. Those who justify the criminalisation of homosexuality based on their religious beliefs, fail to accept that the question is not whether or not homosexuality is an immoral act or not, but what is the civilised, right and appropriate way of treating people who have made the informed choice to pursue this sexual life style in a free and democratic country with secular constitution; and whether it is just and enlightening to punish a behaviour simply because religion condemns it?

This is not a religious matter, but a question of freedom, equality, tolerance, discrimination and liberty. The idea that people who oppose the criminalisation of same sex marriage are less religious or less godly than those who support it is simply false. It is perfectly right and possible to be a born again Christian and see the wrong in the criminalisation of sin. What is at stake here is not whether homosexuality is sinful or not, as I have stated earlier on, but whether any human being has any right to punish it because his religion characterises as sin. This is something every religious person has to think about deeply and prayerfully and ask themselves; has God given us right to punish sin? Does a religion condemning an act, a legitimate reason for the adherents of the religion to take it upon themselves to punish those who choose the act in the exercise of their fundamental human right? Those who argue for the criminalisation of homosexuality would appear to be simply expressing religious intolerance towards their brothers and sisters who have made the choice to live in sin.

I would therefore argue for non-criminalization of same ‘sex marriage’ in Nigeria, for the simple reason that throughout history, whenever sin has been criminalised, it had never been an act of love, but expression of intolerance. This does not mean that I am arguing for the legalisation of same sex marriage. I am against the legalisation of same sex marriage not only because my religious conviction compels me, but also for the simple fact that I believe that marriage should remain a union between a man and a woman. Criminalisation of behaviour religious people describe as sin has always been a prelude to religious intolerance and persecution which threatens freedom of conscience and liberty. Moreover, there would be no need for people in same sex relationship to want to define their relationship as marriage, if it is legally defined in Nigeria that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. Those who argue for the selective criminalisation of sins do not do religion or God any favours. It would appear that they act more out of religious prejudice and righteous indignation than on the principle of liberty, equality and justice for all. The law should not be used to legalise discrimination or religious prejudices. It is unjust to for the law to strengthen or pander to religious intolerance in any form or shape in a secular democracy.

It is true that homosexuality is in the same category as pervasive sexual practices like bestiality, and incest. Yet in the history of Christianity and in Islam, there were ‘men of God’ who had relationships which could be described as incestuous by our definition of today. In fact, many ‘men of God’ of both religions would have been charged with paedophilia in many western democracies of today for having relationship with very young women who were below the age of consensual sex. For instance Jacob in the bible had twelve sons from four women two of which were sisters and the order two their maids. Today many religious people would raise eye brow about similar behaviour, but there is no evidence in the bible that God cared too much about it. Homosexuality also falls into the same category of sin as adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, embezzling public funds, dishonouring one’s parents, sponsoring terrorist groups etc. There is therefore no single reason or justification why homosexuality should be singled out for criminalisation. Only religious states like Islamic states criminalise sins. I wonder what would happen in Nigeria, if fornication and adultery are criminalised. Nigeria has been unable to bring corrupt politicians to book and now, they want to create more criminals on moral grounds.

Whenever religious people justify the criminalisation of sin, persecution is not far away. The world has seen too many persecutions inspired by religious beliefs and prejudices. It is intolerance to criminalise sins which do not amount to crimes. A good government makes clear distinction between sins which constitutes crimes and sins which do not; and only legislate on sins which are also crimes. A sin is a crime, if committing it causes injury to another human being. This is why sins like stealing, murder etc. are rightly classified as crime. Homosexuals harm no one when their act is consensual. They sin against no one but God and it should be left to God to punish them. There is no evidence that God has delegated the right to judge and punish sins to any pope, priest, Imam or Rabbi, and there is no justification to criminalise the behaviour of people who do not share a particular religious morality. Religious people make a mistake, sin against God, and perpetrate injustice when they take it upon themselves to punish sin. All religions agree that only God can punish sin and there is no evidence that He has delegated this duty to the law makers, priest or Imam.

I suppose God expects Muslims and Christians to be watchmen, warning the world of the wages of sin and telling them of the love of God. It is very clear that God hates all sins but loves the sinner and does not approve of human beings playing God by punishing sins. The relationship between God and the sinner is like the relationship between doctors and their patients. While doctors love their patients they hate the disease that trouble them and work to cure or relieve their suffering. I want to believe that God feels the same for all sinners, including homosexuals. In confronting those who were about to stone a woman caught in adultery, Jesus demonstrated the right attitude to sin and sinners, and exposed the hypocrisy of those who delights in punishing sinners to show their religiosity and righteousness. From this story we learn that God hates sin but loves sinners, while hypocrites love sin but hate sinners.

Elsewhere in Matthew 13:24-30, in the parable of the wheat and tares, Jesus once again showed that God has not given it to anybody to separate the righteous from sinners by apportioning punishments. Often religious people who argue for the criminalisation of sin as a deterrent, to the people, forget that those who choose sin have examined the same evidence that convinced them and chose not to believe. They may not understand that while God does not share the views of the sinners or approve their choices, that he respects their unbelief and will revisit it at his own time. Religious people need to understand that God gives everybody, righteous or sinful, the freedom of personal choice and liberty of conscience which should never be violated. Unless they respect this God given freedom, religious conflicts and persecutions will not cease. When the disciples of Jesus asked him for permission to remove tares from a field of wheat, he told them to leave both to grow together until harvest. This is a lesson that it is not in the power of man to separate human being into those who are righteous and those who are sinners. It is this intolerant attitude to other people choices that can mutate into religious extremism, the consequences which Nigeria is suffering in the activities of Boko Haram.

All human beings, good and bad are children of God. Even the vilified devil (Satan) is a child of God and a brother of Jesus. Only a parent has the right to say which of his children he loves. No sibling has a right to define the relationship of his sibling with their parents. Good parents love both their good and bad children even though they cannot save them from the consequences of their sinful choices. I suppose God can do better than the best parent. When will religious people learn to first remove the beam in their own eyes before attempting to remove the speck in their brothers ‘or sisters’ eyes? The Bible says that all have sinned and come short to the glory of God. Whether you are saved or not, you have sinned and come short to the glory of God. Before the law, you are a sinner irrespective of what you think about your sin. To be forgiven does not mean that you did not commit the offence or that you are not guilty. Forgiveness is an act of grace which no one merits or can pay for. Religious people need to show more humility. The Bible says that God looked down upon the children of men and did not see a single righteous person, yet history is full of stories of self-righteous bigots making the lives of people hell. They forget that if any person will be saved at all, that it would be by grace and grace alone and not by works least any man should boast.

How can people who claim to have experienced the amazing grace of God’s forgiveness feel so self-righteous as to justify the criminalisation of the behaviour of their brothers and sisters in darkness? If God should judge iniquity, who would stand? It would seem that it is similar mind-set that justifies the crusades, jihads, religious terrorism, stoning of adulterers, and cutting off of the hands of thief that justifies the criminalisation of homosexuality. These are not holy minds but intolerant hearts. The extent of sexual abuse of children that went on in the Catholic Church in many countries is just coming to light. Surprisingly no case has been reported from any African country.

A clear and unambiguous reading of the Bible and Quran will show that both Holy books characterise homosexuality as sin. Christianity does not advocate the criminalisation of sins that do not constitute crimes, discrimination against sins or persecution of sinners. Criminalisation of sin is an act of religious intolerance and a violation of liberty of conscience and therefore unjust and unacceptable in a secular democracy like Nigeria.

Therefore, the Nigerian Senate should not pass the law to criminalise sexual preferences and same sex marriage. There is no need to criminalise such sins. Such a law would be discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation and a violation of individual liberty of conscience. The state should not be in the business of passing laws that legalises religious intolerance or punished religiously defined immorality. It would be an unjust law even though what it prohibits is sinful, a sexual deviance and immoral. Furthermore, the principle of separation of state from religion forbids the state from passing laws that enforces particular religious beliefs.

The real question is why some people are so animated and intolerant of homosexuality and take pleasure in persecuting them when they are also committing other sins of similar depravity in the sight of God?. I suppose the answer lies in the stage of their evolutionary understanding of God, religion, sin and life. I hope that the Senate will rise above religious bigotry and refuse to pass a law that would criminalise morality on the basis of religious convictions. Nigeria can do without such laws.

In fact, homosexuality is the least of the problems in Nigeria. Homosexuality is not the cause of corruption and few if any of the people looting Nigeria are homosexuals, ‘I hope’. The Senate should rather use the time to pass a law to end immunity for politicians at the time they are stealing and reduce their out of this world pay. They can also look at separating the post of the Attorney General and minister for justice to enable the system function effectively. A wolf cannot work in the best interest of sheep. At the end of the day, it should not be anybody’s business how a person satisfies his instinctual libidinal urges, as long as he or she is not hurting anybody or using anybody against their will. This is the principle of live and let live.

The solution to the problem of same sex marriage is simple. Leave it in limbo. Do not criminalise same sex marriage and also do not legalise it. The limbo is a very good place to leave things like that. If the government must take a stand on such a moral issue, it can enact a law defining and describing marriage as a union between a man and a woman; in this way, the homosexuals will know when and where to stop in their attempt to redefine morality. This would make it clear that it is an act which the society abhors but which it does not wish to criminalise as it would be an act of intolerance. In this way, the religious can freely preach against it and homosexuals can live their lives in freedom, without discrimination, or molestation and nobody will accuse the government of promoting immorality. This will be a win, win, solution for all.

If Nigeria fails to do the right thing, homosexuals in Nigeria will rightly feel targeted and discriminated against, and will be supported by homosexual organisations in the west and many pro homosexual liberal western democracies, to fight against the discrimination. In the end it will not only lead to decriminalisation of homosexuality, but legalisation, redefinition and change in its moral perception as immoral behaviour which has happened in the west. What religious people often fail to take on board is that they are looking at homosexual from a different angle from homosexuals. Homosexuals know that their behaviour is considered sinful by the religious, what many of them say is that they are fighting for is their right to do as they please which no one should take away unless their behaviour constitutes a crime.

Nigeria must not simply latch on the Right, to criminalise homosexuality. It needs to show an enlightened attitude to what has been by all means a feature of life on earth. For some ununderstandable reasons, some men are not sexually attracted to women and some women are not attracted to men. The science of homosexuality is still at its early stage. Until we figure out why this is the case, such people must be protected by the laws from religious intolerance. This is the civilised attitude in a secular democracy and Nigeria should for once lead the world in the right direction. As Apostle Paul would said, all things are lawful but not all things are expedient. I hope wisdom will guide.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.

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