ABUJA — Nigerian lawmakers moved a step closer Tuesday to approving a bill that would harshly crack down on gay rights, including banning same-sex marriage and public displays of affection between homosexual couples.
The bill which has already been approved by the Senate passed a second reading in the House of Representatives with an unanimous vote and will now see a clause-by-clause review in the chamber at an undetermined date.
"It is alien to our society and culture and it must not be imported," House majority leader Mulikat Adeola-Akande said during debate, referring to same-sex marriage. "Religion abhors it and our culture has no place for it," she added.
House minority leader Femi Gbajabiamila said the bill represents "convergence of both law and morality." He said that same-sex marriage "is both illegal and immoral."
Nigeria's senate in November 2011 approved the bill that would make same-sex marriages punishable by up to 14 years for the couple and 10 for anyone abetting such unions.
It also set out a 10-year sentence for "any person who ... directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationships".
Gay organisations would also be made illegal, leading some to raise concerns over whether funding channeled through non-governmental organisations in Nigeria for AIDS treatment would be put in jeopardy.
A final House vote would come after the clause-by-clause review. President Goodluck Jonathan must sign off on the bill to give it final approval in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has already warned that his country will consider withholding aid from countries that do not recognise gay rights. The United States has expressed concerns over the Nigerian legislation.
Last year, US President Barack Obama ordered all government agencies that play an active foreign policy role to take steps to encourage foreign nations to put a premium on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.
It is unclear why lawmakers have made such a ban a priority other than to gain popular support since gay marriage is not known to be prevalent in Nigeria and homosexuals are already harshly discriminated against.
Nigeria is a highly religious society, with its 160 million people roughly divided in half between Christians and Muslims, though a significant number are also believed to follow traditional religions.