Religious Right Watch: Making it illegal to be gay


by Andy Birkey • Religious right rhetoric on traditional marriage is often framed as concern about preserving the institution as a bond between one man and one woman, but an international flap over an anti-gay marriage law in Nigeria has revealed the true intent of “traditional marriage” groups: the imprisonment of gays and lesbians for their sexual orientation.

Andy Birkey lives in Minneapolis. He is an LGBT community advocate and blogs on politcial, social, and community issues. Read his blog at Eleventh Avenue South

Last week the Nigerian House of Representatives voted to approve a measure that would impose a jail sentence on gays and lesbians who live together and on those who assist them. The bill says it’s illegal for “the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of living together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship.” Violators could be imprisoned for up to three years. People who “witness, abet and aid the solemnization of a same gender marriage” face up to five years in prison.

International human rights groups and members of the European Union are calling for a suspension of international aid to Nigeria because the law violates international human rights agreements. That has America’s religious right leaders and media outlets upset.

“The European Union has certainly been infiltrated by homo-fascists. There’s just no doubt about it,” said Matt Barber of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University School of Law and Liberty Counsel. “They are using that body to essentially try to push the international homosexual agenda down the throats of countries that respect traditional values relative to sexual morality.

“We have the Defense of Marriage Act on the books [in the United States]; why aren’t they coming after the U.S.? Well, because what bullies do is they pick on someone that is weaker than they are,” he continued. “So the European Union is trying to make an example out of Nigeria because they are in a position of influence and power, yet they will not pick the same fight with the United States because they know it would be to no avail.”

Imagine that Alabama passed a law that arrested people of the same sex who lived together on suspicion of “sodomy” and the state began imprisoning the friends and family of gays and lesbians for buying them housewarming gifts. That’s exactly what Barber is defending.

The defense of imprisoning gays and lesbians is not new for the religious right. Right here in Minnesota, the “pro-family” group Minnesota Family Council was founded to defend sodomy laws, laws that police used for decades to arrest gays and lesbians on the street, raid and shut down gay and lesbian bars, and imprison same-sex couples.

The Family Council fought vigorously in the 1980s and early 1990s to keep in place Minnesota laws that could result in the imprisonment of gays and lesbians simply based on their sexual orientation.

Those laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2001, as were sodomy laws nationwide by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

These actions and statements reveal that “pro-family” and “traditional marriage” are code words for an agenda whose ultimate goal is the criminalization of gays and lesbians.

originally published February 2, 2009