For those of us who live in the Western world, it can seem as if gay rights have won the day. Having been legalized in Germany in 2017 and in Austria in 2018, same-sex marriage is the law of the land in every major Western country except Switzerland, which seems to be on the verge of approval. It’s still verboten, to be sure, in the microstates of Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, and – surprise! – the Vatican City State.
There are odd exceptions and gray areas. Another microstate, San Marino, in the name of tourist profits, permits foreign gay couples, but not same-sex Sammarinese citizens, to wed within its borders. Also, although the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay nuptials applies to Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the jury is still out on whether it applies to American Samoa. And while gay marriages are already recognized in most of the U.K. and in the nation of Ireland, gays in Northern Ireland won’t enjoy the right to marry until this coming January. There are other curiosities: the Netherlands was the first country in the world to permit same-sex marriage, but the status of gay unions is still a gray area in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, even though they are fully constituent parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The two large islands making up the bulk of New Zealand have recognized same-sex marriage since 2013, but it’s still banned in the rest of the so-called Realm of New Zealand — namely, the Cook Islands and the islands of Niue and Tokelau.
Some may find it surprising that so many Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Uruguay – have same-sex marriage. Even more surprising, perhaps, is that there are beginning to be legal breakthroughs in gay rights in countries where public hostility toward gays is still through the roof. In June, for example, laws criminalizing same-sex relations were – quite remarkably – ruled unconstitutional in Botswana. This followed similar actions in Angola, Mozambique, and the Seychelles – and, last year, in India.
But in some part of the world, things are going the other way. Take Nigeria. In 2014, that country’s then president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed an act prohibiting same-sex marriage and “amorous relationships,” the latter of which apparently refers to any sort of intimate same-sex conduct. Violation can result in a long jail term – which, according to the Guardian, is 10 years. On December 11, the Guardian‘s Jason Burke reported that no fewer than 47 men had just gone on trial for this transgression, having been arrested in a police raid on a Lagos hotel where they were attending a meeting of a gay club. Although the law has previously been used by Nigerian authorities to harass, detain, intimidate, and extort money from gays, this is reportedly the first time that suspected offenses have led to actual prosecution.
In a way, the 47 gay defendants were lucky to have been arrested in Lagos, which is in southern Nigeria, rather than in one of twelve states in northern Nigeria that have adopted sharia law, under which homosexuality is punishable by stoning to death. Given these grim facts about the status of gays in Nigeria, some readers who are aware of the truth about the situation might have been surprised on October 1 to read an article on the CNN website headlined “10 Things Nigeria Does Better than Anywhere Else.” The author of the piece, Noo Saro-Wiwa, began by admitting that “Nigeria has something of an image problem” but went on at once to insist that Nigeria, for several reasons, is an absolutely terrific tourist destination. Ironically, the very first reason given was the country’s “traditional weddings”: After gushing for several sentences about the terrific way in which Nigerians perform marriage ceremonies, Saro-Wiwa concluded: “If you haven’t experienced a traditional Nigerian wedding, you haven’t experienced Nigeria.” In true CNN fashion – the international “news” network loves to whitewash African and Arabic countries, perhaps because it derives much of its income from African governments, in the form of advertising revenue from their national airlines and tourism boards, and despite the fact that these countries are the toughest on earth on their gay citizens – there wasn’t a word about the way in which non-traditional couples are treated in Africa’s most populous country. This is CNN.