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Nigeria votes to criminalize gay marriage

Nigerian Senate approves anti-gay marriage bill.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan take part in round table talks at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria. (Christopher Furlong/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria's Senate voted to criminalize gay marriage, gay advocacy groups, and same-sex displays of affection on Tuesday. This is the latest legislation targeting gays in Africa's most populous nation, the Associated Press reported.  

The bill, which is much more wide-ranging than its initial draft, has to be passed by Nigeria's House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before it becomes a law.

However, the law has widespread support in the deeply religious country, and many see the bill as a way for the government to score easy political points in a society largely intolerant of homosexualty, the Guardian reported.  

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According to a 2008 survey by Nigeria's Information for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, only 1.4% of Nigerians felt "tolerant" towards sexual minorities.  

Gay sex has been banned in Nigeria since the country was under colonial rule.

According to the the Associated Press:

"Such elements in society should be killed," said Sen. Baba-Ahmed Yusuf Datti of the opposition party Congress for Progressive Change, drawing some murmurs of support from the gallery.

Couples who marry could face up to 14 years in prison, and anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years. 

The bill could have implications for people who aren't gay as well.  Damian Ugwu, a rights activist at the Lagos-based Social Justice Advocacy Initiative, said the bill will give Nigerian police a license to violate the rights of both gay and non-gay people.

"It’s going to create an avenue where young men and women, who often live together in big cities for financial reasons, will become targets for extortion,” he said.

"From what I know of the Nigerian police, they look for every opportunity to extort money. With this bill, they won't go looking for gay couples in the Sheraton – they'll go just go around rounding up people who are poor or don't know their rights," he said, the Guardian reported.  

The bill has been shelved twice in five years, according to Care2.com.  

More from GlobalPost: Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill sparks hot debate

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/nigeria/111129/nigeria-senate-criminalize-gay-marriage