During his first visit to Africa as president, Barack Obama took the opportunity to champion same-sex marriage, despite the fact that he was speaking in a country where homosexuality is forbidden and a punishable crime.
Senegalese President Macky Sall rebuffed Obama’s urging by saying that although his country is “very tolerant,” it is not ready to decriminalize homosexuality.
Obama’s advocacy for gay rights in Africa came within twenty-four hours of arriving in Senegal.
“I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Sall, Senegal’s president. “And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.”
In Senegal homosexual activity is illegal and punishable by one to five years in prison as well as fine of up to 1,500,000 francs. Additionally, 97 percent of Senegalese citizens consider homosexuality taboo.
“Every world religion has this basic notion that is embodied in the Golden Rule — treat people the way you want to be treated,” Obama said, according to a transcript provided by the White House. “And I think that applies here as well.”
Senegal is a 95-percent Muslim country, and a sexually conservative and patriarchal nation. Women are encouraged to dress modesty in public, and polygamy is not uncommon.
Sall responded by defending his country’s current laws.
“These issues are all societal issues basically, and we cannot have a standard model which is applicable to all nations, all countries — you said it, we all have different cultures,” Sall answered, as translated. “We have different religions. We have different traditions. And even in countries where this has been decriminalized and homosexual marriage is allowed, people don’t share the same views.”
Obama has made it a priority to promote LGBT rights overseas and during his travels. In 2011, he openly condemned a bill proposed in Uganda, which would make some homosexual acts punishable by death.
“I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world, whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women and children for their perceived sexual orientation.”
Obama stated that same-sex marriage or gay rights did not come up in conversation during private talks at the Senegalese presidential palace.