Thursday, 6 March 2014
Gay Rights: When 99% of the People Are Wrong
It’s funny watching the contrail that goes up in the sky when 99% of the people are wrong.
From the reaction to the anti-gay marriage bill passed by the senate, it is safe, the Nigerian way, to say that 99% of Nigerians are in support of it. (By the way, one way of knowing that you are a Nigerian is if you take delight in throwing abstract figures around.)
I have no problem with the large number of Nigerians who support the bill. I do not begrudge them either. Unlike those pissed off by the multitude of people in support, I actually understood why.
But that does not make the bill right.
I wouldn’t have bothered to squeeze myself into a debate that has no space for rational thinking if I had not read a pedestrian editorial on the bill by the Guardian newspaper of Nigeria. When the so-called Nigeria’s flagship newspaper shows no interest in expanding and elevating the discourse, it troubles me.
To begin with, I can bet anyone N10,000 that President Goodluck Jonathan will not sign the bill. No president of a dependent country like Nigeria will sign such a bill and survive in today’s world. So, on that basis, opponents of the bill can relax. It is dead on arrival at the president’s desk. Unless (and that is a big unless) the president can trade signing the bill with quelling the crises that will follow the removal of oil subsidy.
Having said that, it is important to point out the fallacies that emerged in discussions surrounding the bill. Those are more troubling to me than the bill itself.
To begin with, I did not know that gays in Nigeria were planning to get married. The chief sponsor of the bill, Senator Domingo Obende said that, “Same sex marriage is spreading and spreading around the whole world just like pornography and terrorism which will become the order of the day if not arrested on time.” I wish he and his colleagues in the senate can apply such foresight in dealing with real threats already devastating Nigeria.
The first fallacy I want us to discard is the idea that homosexuality is not African culture but part of Western culture. Little research (wink wink- google search) will show anyone that the West reacted exactly the same way Africans are reacting today when homosexuality first became pronounced in their society.
In 1779, the liberal Thomas Jefferson, who insisted in the separation of Church and State, proposed a law calling for the castration of gays. Jefferson’s law was considered an improvement from the predominant law in the books then that called for death.
In 1895, one of the greatest Irish writers, Oscar Wilde, was arrested and jailed for engaging in homosexual activities. He died soon after he served his sentence.
The first national gay rights movement in America, the Mattachine Society, was founded in 1951.
In 1961, sodomy law was repealed in Illinois. Connecticut followed in 1969. Meanwhile other states continued to sentence those caught in consensual gay sex to prison for up to 20 years.
In June of 1969, riot broke out after New York City police stormed Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. After three days of riots during which over 2000 people came out in support of lesbians, gays and transgender, the gay rights movement officially kicked off. Since then, every June, cities across America hold gay pride parade.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association, which once classified homosexuality as a mental illness, recanted and came out in defense of homosexuality.
On November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk, an openly gay San Francisco Supervisor was assassinated.
At the 1980 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic Party inserted in its platform a “protection of all groups from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
In 1982, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to refuse to condemn homosexuality.
In 1993, Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. The Hawaii state lawmakers immediately amended the state constitution to overrule the court. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act that was aimed at stopping gay marriage approved by any state from being enforceable in other states.
In Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, the punishment for homosexual activity is death. Since 1979, Iran has executed over 4000 people for committing homosexual acts. Despite the killings, gays still exist in Iran. More importantly, Iran has not been transformed into a model society where anti-gay men and women around the world can call home.
In 1998, Mathew Wayne Sheppard, a student of the University of Wyoming was murdered because he was gay.
Many Nigerians do not know that it was only in 2003 that the US Supreme Court ended a law that made it a crime for same-sex couple to have intercourse.
In July of this year, Peter Lucas Moses, a 27-year old leader of the Black Hebrew Israelites, shot and killed a 4year-old son of his girlfriend in North Carolina. His reason was that he thought the boy was gay because he slapped another boy’s behind.
According to polls, in 1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, only 25% of the American public supported same-sex marriage. By 2011, Gallop, CNN, ABC News/Washington Post polls all noted that majority of Americans approve same-sex marriage.
In America today, majority of those who oppose same-sax marriage are older Americans, those who attend religious services, members of the Republican Party and Americans who call the South and the Midwest home. Another block in opposition is African-Americans, our cousins.
So homosexuality is not a Western culture being forced on Africans. It is a worldwide wind that finally got to Africa.
The funny thing is that as far as I know, there was no gay rights movement in Nigeria. But all of a sudden, the Nigerian Senate gathered Nigerians together and dumped them inside a truck for a bungee jump.
At issue is this: Two people meet. They fall in love. They get married. They become respectable members of the society. They care for each other. They have children. They grow old together. One inherits what the first to die leaves behind.
That is the standard marriage life for a man and a woman.
Now, gay couples want to partake in that institution. It has triggered the gay rights movement all over the world. The movement seeks social equality and an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
For many opponents, it is a return to Sodom and Gomorrah.
In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage. It has since been followed by Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden. In the United States, six states have legalized gay marriage. They are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
In the debate on gay rights, Africans invoke the African exceptionalism. African exceptionalism says that what happens in other parts of the world matters not to us because we are different.
In fact, for most Africans, gay lifestyle is an abomination. It is seen as being against God’s will and against tradition. The existence of gays in Africa is hardly acknowledged. There is a fear that mere acknowledgment disrupts the social order. There is a greater fear that granting any right to gays will only encourage homosexual behaviors.
South Africa is the only African country that allows gay marriage. For many Africans, gay rights movement is something foreign. Countries like Zimbabwe and Uganda are the headquarters of the anti-gay movement. Last January in Uganda, David Kato, a leading Ugandan gay rights activist was beaten to death.
With this bill, Nigeria has joined the team of anti-gay African countries.
In a debate on the floor of the Nigerian Senate, the senate president, David Mark said, “It’s incomprehensible to contemplate same sex marriage. I cannot be a party to it. There are enough men and women to marry one another. The whole idea is importation of foreign culture but this one would be a freedom too many. We cannot allow our tradition and value system to be eroded.”
This is not the first time the world has confronted a challenge like this. The fight to stop the trade in African slaves passed through the same moral dilemma. Some Christians and Muslims strongly believed that Africans slaves were sub-humans and did not deserve equal rights as the rest of humanity.
It happened again in the debate as to whether black people would be allowed to marry white people. Here, well-intended white people feared that black people marrying white would bring an end to the white race. That was when they came up with the slogan, ‘once you go black you don’t go back.’ There is a similar fear that once the gays are allowed to live we will all end up as gays.
In each of these kinds of challenges, the tough question is what do you do when each side’s idea of justice is at war? What do you do when there is no moral harmony? What do you do when change is unsettling? What do you do when doing nothing is not an option?
One of the most disarming arguments around the Nigerian question is that God, not the British, put Nigerians together in one country for a reason. What is the reason why God created gays?
Some will say that God has nothing to do with it. Which raises the question, Is it by nature or by nurture? If it is by nurture, why do some young gay kids commit suicide when faced with the bulling associated with being gay? Why wouldn’t they just switch over?
If you want to frighten an anti-gay African, tell him that his son or daughter may become gay. Watch him curse you out as if those parents whose children turned gay fired a missile at God. The fascinating thing is that these conservatives often have one gay child, as if life is saying to them ‘deal with it.’ Conservatives like Dick Cheney and Alan Keyes have had to contend with their children turning out to be gays. While Dick Cheney accepted her daughter, Alan Keyes banished his.
Every society is measured not by the way it treats its strong and privileged but how it treats its weak and disadvantaged. You do not have to hug the gay. You just have to give room in your heart for the dove and for the eagle to be.
Africa has scores of serious problems. Gay rights movement is not one of them. Anyone who tells you it is, is deceiving you.
If I hear the opponents of gay rights well, gay is a lifestyle and not an inherent sexual orientation. And as such, gays deserve discrimination from true sons and daughters of Africa. But what about the Igbo Osu Caste system? That lifestyle or is it orientation, is home grown. It cannot in any way be called a choice. Here Africans sanction discrimination against a group of people who have done nothing to be what they are labeled.
By the way, what is African about today’s crop of Africans? Is it the language that we speak? Is it the indomie that we eat? Is it the blue-eyed Jesus that we worship or the Arabic Mohammed that we bow to? Could it be that the only thing that is unAfrican is tolerance? The people who made Africans to burn up the symbols of the gods of their forefathers and to carry the cross and the crescent as replacements have said that you have to accept gay marriages and Africans are crying foul. Which God will protect you now? Your God or their God?
Guess what? The head of the African has long been chopped off like that of a captured fowl. What we are doing now is simply flapping our wings and splashing blood all around. It has long been over for us.
When Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and David Cameron spoke about the need for Africans to respect gay rights, they made the classic mistake of not deploying George H. Bush’s ‘kinder and gentler’ tone. Like George H. Bush, they should have said to our divided African souls troubled by yet another change: “This is not a threat; this is not a boast. This is just the way things gonna be.”
Gays are here to stay. We can make all the noise that we want. Just like the West, we will eventually learn to accept it and live with it. It is the way of the world. Those who cannot stand it have one option: they can stop the world and jump out. The rest can look at the bright side - it is not the end of the world.
It may be the end of the world as we know it, but it is not the ultimate end of the world. If not for anything else, I trust the 99% of people who are for this anti-gay rights bill will hold fast to their sexuality. The world will only end when we all become gays. And that is not what gay rights is all about. If it were, I would have joined the 99% in saying, Tufiakwa!