The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, steadfastly supports laws in her country which imprison gays for “voluntary sodomy.” She’s also resisted calls from the West to reform anti-gay laws. But while positions like that would surely earn Sirleaf condemnation were she an American politician, she’s received nothing but praise from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as an invitation to speak at a special session of the Clinton Global Initiative.
The 76-year-old Sirleaf, who was elected president of the West African nation in 2005, took part in a session at the annual Clinton confab on Sunday. Hosted by former President Bill Clinton, Sirleaf and Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier discussed Liberia’s battle last year with the Ebola epidemic.
More than 4,800 Liberians have died since last year’s outbreak, which is now under control.
— Hult Prize (@hultprize) September 27, 2015
But while Sirleaf has won accolades for her country’s fight against Ebola and her work on women’s issues — for which she was awarded 2011’s Nobel Peace Prize — she has refused to overturn laws which criminalize homosexual acts.
In 2012, Sirleaf said not only did she oppose gay marriage but also that she supported the criminalization of “voluntary sodomy.” The act is punishable by up to one year in prison in Liberia. The African nation is one of many on the continent that outlaws homosexual acts.
Sirleaf defended her position in a joint interview with former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair in March 2012, saying that “we’ve got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve.”
Not only has Clinton not criticized Sirleaf for her extreme position, the Democratic front-runner has praised the African leader.
When Clinton visited Liberia as secretary of state in 2012, she avoided addressing the topic of gay rights, even though the issue was being widely discussed in the nation at the time. Last year, after leaving office, Clinton praised Sirleaf’s work on women’s issues at an event to promote her book “Hard Choices.” And this March, Clinton shared a stage with Sirleaf to unveil a long-awaited report on women’s rights.
In contrast, Clinton has recently criticized her Republican presidential counterparts for what she says are their extreme views on gay marriage. In June she called the GOP the “party of the past” on the issue.
During her current White House bid, Clinton has attempted to portray herself as a champion of gay rights even though she’s flip-flopped on the issue in the past.
It was not until leaving the State Department in 2013 that Clinton publicly said she supported gay marriage. Prior to that, she said she supported civil unions.
She has also changed her mind over whether gay marriage should be legalized at the state or federal level. She now supports federal legalization.