A woman holds her hands up during the Durban Pride parade where several hundred people marched through the Durban city centre in support of gay rights
A woman holds her hands up during the Durban Pride parade where several hundred people marched through the Durban city centre in support of gay rights

Nigeria's Senate voted Tuesday to criminalise gay marriage, instituting prison terms of more than ten years in cases of violations, prompting fears that discrimination towards gay people is growing despite international calls for more rights.

The bill has been approved by Nigeria's Senate and must now be approved by the House of Representative before it can be presented to the President, Jonathan Goodluck for signature.

The law would see gay couples who marry facing up to 14 years in jail while witnesses or people who help these couple marry could be served with a 10-year imprisonment sentence.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons already faced legal challenges in Nigeria as both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal.

Nigeria is split between a mainly Muslim North and a largely Christian South and same sex activity is punishable by death by stoning in the twelve states that have adopted Shari'a law.

Religion in Nigeria is very important and public opinion has shown strong anti-gay feeling. Even lawmakers have called for harsher penalties to be imposed on gay.

"Such elements in society should be killed," Sen. Baba Dati said during the debate.

Anticipating the reaction from the international community, Senate President David Mark warned that Nigeria would not bow to international pressure on any legislation.

"Anybody can write to us, but our values are our values," he said. "No country has a right to interfere in the way we make our laws."

Homosexuality in the African Continent

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries and many have made same sex activity passible of jail sentence.

In 2009, in Uganda legislators introduced a bill that divided homosexual behaviour into two categories: "aggravated homosexuality", in which an offender would receive the death penalty, or "the offense of homosexuality" in which an offender would receive life imprisonment. The bill provoked an international outcry and has since then not been passed.

In Cameroon last week, three men were served with a five-year jail sentence for engaging in gay sex.

And in the same week Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe responded to UK Prime Minister David Cameron's call for more gay rights by warning "Do not get tempted into that (homosexuality). You are young people. If you go that direction, we will punish you severely."