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Obama clashes with African host over gay rights

Thursday, June 27, 2013

DAKAR, Senegal — President Barack Obama on Thursday praised the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage as a “victory for American democracy” but clashed with his African host over gay rights in a sign of how far the movement has to go internationally.

Obama said recognition of gay unions in the United States should cross state lines and that equal rights should be recognized universally. It was his first chance to expand on his thoughts about the ruling, which was issued Wednesday as he flew to Senegal, one of many African countries that outlaw homosexuality.

Senegalese President Macky Sall rebuffed Obama’s call for Africans to give gays equal rights under the law.

Evan Vucci, AP
President Obama speaks with Senegalese President Macky Sall during a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace on Thursday, June 27, 2013, in Dakar, Senegal.

Rebecca Blackwell, AP
President Barack Obama waves as he poses for a picture alongside U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, Senegalese President Macky Sall, right, and Senegalese First Lady Mariame Faye Sall at the presidential palace in Dakar, Senegal, on Thursday.

“We are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality,” Sall said, while insisting that the country is “very tolerant” and needs more time to digest the issue without pressure. “This does not mean we are homophobic.”

Obama said gay rights didn’t come up in their p rivate meeting at the presidential palace, a mansion that looks somewhat similar to the White House. But Obama said he wants to send a message to Africans that while he respects differing personal and religious views on the matter, it’s important to have nondiscrimination under the law.

“People should be treated equally, and that’s a principle that I think applies universally,” he said.

A report released Monday by Amnesty International says 38 African countries criminalize homosexuality. In four of those – Mauritania, northern Nigeria, southern Somalia and Sudan – the punishment is death. These laws appear to have broad public support. A June 4 Pew Research Center survey found at least nine of 10 respondents in Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and Nigeria believe homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

Papi Nbodj, a 19-year-old student who stood by the road to the presidential palace to see Obama’s arrival, said homosexuality is against the religious beliefs of most in Senegal.

“We are in a Muslim country, so we certainly cannot have it here,” he said. “And for me it’s not OK to have this anywhere in the world.”

Sall sought to reassure Obama that gays are not persecuted in Senegal. But under Senegalese law, “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex” can be punished by up to five years in prison.

Ndeye Kebe, president of a human rights organization that works with homosexuals called Women’s Smile, disputed Sall’s contention that gays are not discriminated against.

“I know of around a dozen people who are in prison for homosexuality as we speak,” she said. “There wasn’t any real proof against them, but they were found guilty and they are in prison.”

And as recently as February of 2008, police rounded up men suspected of being homosexual after a Senegalese tabloid published photographs of a clandestine gay wedding in a suburb of Dakar. Gays went into hiding or fled to neighbor ing countries, but they were pushed out of Gambia by the president’s threat of decapitation.

As for Wednesday’s court ruling, Obama said he’s directing his administration to comb through every federal statute to quickly determine the implications of a decision that gave the nation’s legally married gay couples equal federal footing with all other married Americans.

He said he wants to make sure that gay couples who deserve benefits under the ruling get them quickly. Obama said he personally believes that gay couples legally married in one state should retain their benefits if they move to another state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage.

“I believe at the root of who we are as a people, as Americans, is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law,” he said. “We believe in basic fairness. And what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.”

Obama also offered prayers for former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is gravely ill, ahead of Obama’s planned visit to his country this weekend. Obama said he was inspired to become political active by Mandela’s example in the anti-apartheid movement of being willing to sacrifice his life for a belief in equal treatment.

“I think he’s a hero for the world,” Obama said. “And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we’ll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”

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21 more reader comments:

  1. I think Africa has a lot more issues on their plate to worry about gay sex

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 9:55am
  2. “victory for American democracy” couldn’t have said it better =)

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 9:59am
  3. Doing time for same-sex relations is not only discriminatory but unfair also.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:05am
  4. That clash is because of the Evangelical lies being spread like manure where ever they can.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:07am
  5. Africa has far more to worry about like why children are being infected with Aids why there hungry and why there malnourished when Africa is really a rich country so no one there should be hungry … Africa needs to worry about meet God for them selves accepting punishment for rapeing young women to turn them back straight like I said much more to worry about .

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:13am
  6. typical troll who only sees “sex, sex, sex.” have you ever heard of human rights, equality, dignity?

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:14am
  7. So does America, Shane, but the GOP keeps wanting to legislate vaginas.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:19am
  8. The murder of lgbt is very serious S DeL

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:21am
  9. “African” wow how specific.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:28am
  10. Mr. Sall is a Muslim. No one expects Muslims to be tolerant.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:31am
  11. I know it is Luca. Which is why Africa should just stop worrying about what gay people do and worry about how are going to feed and educate its citizens. But no, they’d rather go completely ass backwards and make their continent an even shittier place to call home.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 10:33am
  12. I actually expect the same human decency out of everyone, and though of course I don’t always get it, I have certainly met “tolerant” Muslims.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:11am
  13. you can be killed in different parts of Africa for being gay. more issues well Nigerian passes anti gay law

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:13am
  14. I dont understand when people talk about this “Unnatural state” and they live in a world of mechanical things. The things we produce are not natural. Murdering people for the kind of person they are is unnatural. Murder without reason is unnatural. Homosexuality isnt even about sex. Its a status of companionship. Why does my relationship bother people so much when it doesnt effect them. I think they get the word unnatural and uncommon confused.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:22am
  15. Mark Kendrick : that is an uninformed opinion.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:29am
  16. William Loman It saddens me to see America reduced to a place that seeks to legitimize and legalize sin. Homosexuality is sin, plain and simple. We are ALL sinners, and by no means do I think I’m immune to sin, for sure… But, seeking to glorify sin, and to give governmental sanction to sin, is a very big mistake in a nation that has received so much blessing from God, and whose very foundation is based on Christian principles. I don’t mean to offend anyone here, but that’s my opinion.

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:31am
  17. Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:43am
  18. Call for Pennsylvania Plaintiffs:
    From Earl Accordionist

    Call for Plaintiffs:

    Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court historically ruled yesterday that the U.S. Constitution is violated when the civil rights and protections provided by marriage, such as my legal marriage to Tim, are outlawed.

    We live in Pennsylvania, which outlaws our out-of-state legal marriage.

    I’m asking you citizens of Pennsylvania, whether you’re born heterosexual or not, married or unmarried, to participate in an impending pro-bono lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to overturn the federally unConstitutional Pennsylvanian law that disrespects and outlaws my marriage.

    Please contact me via facebook for more information.

    Thank you so much for your participation. Here’s your opportunity to bring marriage equality to Pennsylvania!

    Earl David Ball
    Easton, Pennsylvania

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 12:17pm
  19. It feels nice to know a president is defending human rights

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 1:05pm
  20. I would like to invite you to join our political debate group! All political affiliations are welcome and interaction is encouraged. I hope to see you all there and hear some of your thoughts!

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 2:15pm
  21. go ‘bama!

    Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 4:12pm