U.S. Rep. Chris Smith
WASHINGTON DC – The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) today condemned U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) for his anti-gay comments during today’s House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa hearing on Nigeria.
Smith said he does “not construe homosexual rights as human rights,” and continued to question whether U.S. opposition to anti-LGBT legislation had negatively impacted the U.S.’s engagement in Nigeria. The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Human Rights should know better. LGBT rights are human rights.
“On a day when 12 men were reportedly arrested for simply attending an alleged LGBT wedding in Nigeria, and as reports keep emerging about the impact of Nigeria’s anti-LGBT law on the lives of Nigerians, it is unconscionable that Representative Smith would not only object to the basic human rights of LGBT people, but argue that their rights should not be part of the administration’s policy in Nigeria,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global.
Smith, who received a “0” on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard, has championed the rights of persecuted minorities around the world, especially Christians in Nigeria. “It is incredibly disappointing to see Smith pit some people’s human rights against the human rights of others. Freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of association are universal human rights, that apply to all people, no matter who they are or who they love,” Cobb said.
In January 2014 President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalizes same-sex marriage and relationships. The law not only bans same-sex marriage, but LGBT Nigerians could face prison sentences of up to 14 years for engaging in same-sex “amorous relationships.” Any person involved in same-sex ceremonies, moreover, including guests, could be jailed for 10 years. The law is particularly harsh because Nigerian law already punishes consensual same-sex activity. Moreover, twelve (out of 36) Nigerian states – which have incorporated Sharia law into the legal system – allow gay people to be put to death for same-sex relationships.
According to the Nigerian NGO Initiative for Equal Rights, as a result of the law there has been a steep increase in violence and persecution of Nigerian LGBT people. The law is also causing LGBT people to avoid HIV clinic centers, a major problem in a country with the second highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in Africa.
During his State of the Union Address on January 21, President Obama made history by situating the rights of LGBT people as part of his larger discussion of human rights and national security.