Someone told me recently that the most important advocacy issue in the world today is the quest for equal right for gay people, as exemplified by the hoopla over same sex marriage in Africa. That friend -- one of those thousands that the friendship button on Facebook allows us have – made sure to tell me that, for not joining the vociferous advocates of same sex love and marriage means, I will be one of those side-tracked by history.
While I did not take the time to advise my ‘friend’ about the over-hyped importance of Gay Rights to the scheme of things, I did try to point out some important truths that Gay Rights activists world over are missing.
Beyond all the talk; from David Cameron threatening to withhold aid to countries that are yet to become “gay compliant” to the Ugandans claiming the act is culturally and morally alien to their country, to the Ghanaian president swearing not to allow for a debate of gay rights during his presidency, and the insistence by the Tanzanians that Cameron can go hang it up a tree as they can do without British aid; there lies a truth that many are shoving under the trapping feet of religious mantra – that same sex unions, even if of a chaste, more refined nature, than the prescribed western alternative, are more common to us (Africans) than we may care to know.
I do not say this with the intention to sell the gospel of same sex marriage or hold brief for my Facebook friend, who claims he is an activist of all kinds of rights. Neither do I intend to make those who feel it is within their rights to express their sexual preferences openly uncomfortable. I rather intend to show how easy people could misinterpret the facts to advance what should rather be a personal opinion.
The first thing I would like to point out is that same sex marriage (female) is not alien to our culture; at least it is not to the Igbo, the tribe to which I am part of. While many might be shocked by this revelation, it is very much true and not a figment of my wild imagination. In Igbo land, and probably in many culture across Africa, women are allowed to marry other women. However, before same sex marriage advocates jump to giddying conclusions, let me stress that this marriage is purely one of convenience and is devoid of sexual intimacy between the parties – in effect, these women are not lesbians and such marriages are not really commonplace and are usually done in a man’s name.
In traditional Igbo society, where agriculture was the hallmark, procreation was the rai·son d’être of marriage. Therefore, when circumstances makes it impossible to produce heirs, or if death came before a man can produce heirs, a widowed wife past the age of child bearing is allowed to marry a woman (in her husband’s name) to bear children for her husband. Married daughters of men who could not produce male heirs before death are also allowed by tradition to marry wives in their father’s name. These wives live, not with the women who paid their bride price, but at the dead man’s homestead.
Now a clear distortion of this culture – which I must also stress doesn’t find much expression anymore in Igbo Land – is pervading the Internet, with diverse activists piping it as a mantra for Gay Rights in Africa. Prompting the need to look it up again and tell them the absolute truth – Homosexuality was never part of our cultural attributes.
Yes, like elsewhere in the world, we also had people who drew closer to like poles; but just like the west frowned on this until a few years ago, our forefathers scorned it (I hear the debate is still ongoing in the west, as many people still oppose homosexuality).
We may come to accept homosexuality and stop snickering at men who are so wired; we may even in time place gay union on the same standard as the civil unions we have today; but the thing to do is give us time to get over our inhibitions – if that is what is making us cringe at the thought of open homosexuality – not force it down our throat.
By using this in-your-face approach, especially when dealing with a society that still finds it hard discussing what happens between a man and his wife behind closed doors in polite conversation, the west and the Gay Right activists they back are only shooting themselves in the foot and making the battle they are undertaking a million times harder.
Perhaps the way to go would be to concentrate on the merits of individuals not their sexual orientation. As I told my Facebook friend; introduce yourself to me as ‘mark the writer’ not ‘mark the gay writer’ and I will relate to you as Mark the man, not Mark the ‘gay man’. Homosexuality is a choice, right? However, stop and consider for a moment, whether I am not within my rights when I say it is not mine.