President Obama on Saturday made an personal plea for gay rights during his visit to Kenya, warning that “bad things happen” when countries discriminate against certain groups of people.
“As an African-American in the United States, I am painfully aware of the history of what happens when people are treated differently under the law,” Obama added during a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. “I’m unequivocal on this.”
But Obama’s call for universal gay rights was quickly dismissed by Kenyatta, who described the issue as something “our culture, our society does not accept.”
“For Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue. We want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for our people,” he said, citing heath concerns and women’s rights.
“This issue is not really an issue that is on the foremost of mind for Kenyans, and that is a fact," he said to some applause.
Kenyatta’s comments represent the views of the vast majority of African leaders, many of whom rely on their religious beliefs in their day-to-day governance.
Obama — who has faced criticism from global gay rights groups for not pursuing the issue aggressively enough — argued democratic governments should guarantee rights for all people regardless of religious views held in that country.
“I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this. I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law,” he said. “The state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.”
Obama made clear before his trip that he planned to raise the issue of gay rights with African government officials.
Still, Obama said he recognized that “there may be people who may have different religious or cultural beliefs.”