The Nigerian Senate has voted through a bill criminalising gay marriage, with prison sentences of up to 14 years for those couples who try to enter into an unofficial union and ten years for witnesses.

The law already punishes acts of homosexuality with 14 years’ imprisonment or, in regions under Shari’a law, with a sentence of death by stoning.

The bill needs to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed off by the President, Goodluck Johnson.

AP records Senator Baba Dati as saying during the debate on gay penalties: “Such elements in society should be killed”.

Yemisi Ilesanmi is the coordinator of Nigerian LGBTIs in the Diaspora Against Anti-Same-Sex Laws, who held a kiss-in outside the Nigerian embassy this month to protest the draft law.

She said the decision to criminalise same-sex marriage is “hateful and a violation of human rights”.

She added: “It is shameful that many Nigerian senators are so myopic that they compared homosexuality to paedophilia during the voting on the bill.

“The action of further criminalising an oppressed minority because of their sexual orientation is indeed an outrage, a gross violation of human rights. Nigeria is sliding fast into a despotic state.

Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights advocacy organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said: “Our Nigerian colleagues are still hopeful that they can defeat the bill at the next stage. We wish them well and stand in solidarity with their struggle for LGBTI equality.

“This bill violates the equality and non-discrimination guarantees of Article 42 of the Nigerian Constitution and Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which Nigeria has signed and pledged to uphold. See more details below.

“There is a good chance of a successful legal challenge to this bill and to Nigeria’s long-standing criminalisation of same-sex relations, which date back the period of British colonial rule.

“Nigeria’s law against homosexuality is not an authentic national law that is rooted in Nigerian jurisprudence. It was imposed on Nigeria by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century. Despite Nigeria now being an independent country, this British colonial law has never been repealed.”

The action follows two previous attempts by Nigerian lawmakers to strengthen anti-gay laws in 2006 and 2009. Plans were quietly dropped after international condemnation.

Nigeria has a population of 150 million people, mostly divided between Islam and Christianity.

A 2007 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found 97% of Nigerian citizens believed homosexuality should be “rejected by society”.