And yet, marriage equality is also likely to give further ammunition to tyrants who use homophobia for political ends. Indeed as the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been affirmed around the world, so has the use of homophobia for political ends.
Take the example of Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan, who used „same-sex marriage“ as a ruse to shore up his flagging political fortunes.
In the face of serious security threats from Boko Haram, corruption scandals and a party divided over his aspirations for a second term, Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill. The law goes much further than outlawing marriage. It criminalizes public displays of affection between same-sex couples and penalizes the work of organizations supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Two weeks before the presidential election in March, Jonathan’s spokesperson, Femi Fani-Kayode, accused the presidential opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, of entering into a Faustian pact with four unspecified Western nations to introduce same-sex marriage in Nigeria in exchange for supporting his candidacy.
To his credit, Buhari ignored the bait and won the election. Jonathan’s cynicism didn’t pay off. What remains to be seen, though, is whether he will confront Nigeria’s problems head-on or box phantoms like his predecessor. A good signal would be to get rid of Jonathan’s dangerous law.
But Jonathan is not alone.
In a report released June 1, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights decried the tendency for political leaders to stir up prejudice through homophobic rhetoric, especially during elections. The political use of homophobia has become a ubiquitous part of the contemporary political landscape, with ruling elites from Gambia, Malaysia, Egypt and Russia among others using LGBT crackdowns for short-term political gain.
Recently, a number of sweeping anti-LGBT laws have proved particularly popular as political tools. Legislation that bans „propaganda,“ „promotion“ or even expressions of support for LGBT groups is an effective ban on ideas, affiliations and social activities as well as public expressions of identity and affection.
As a consequence of their vague legal language, these laws give sweeping powers to governments wishing to curb opposition. It’s easy to criminalize one’s political opponents by accusing them of violating moral laws.
Legislation that seeks to outlaw public expression of identity is almost always accompanied by broader attacks on nongovernmental groups, activism and political dissent. And that really is the point: A clampdown on LGBT people provides the cover for curtailing civil society as a whole.