President Barack Obama’s support of the Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage caused some friction with his African hosts this week.
Obama said from Senegal, his most recent stop on his African tour, that all states should recognize same-sex marriage. Senegal is one of the many African countries that outlaw homosexuality. Senegalese President Macky Sall resisted Obama’s call for Africans to give gays equal rights under the law.
“We are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality,” Sall said, insisting his country is “very tolerant” and needed time to digest the issue without pressure. “This does not mean we are homophobic.”
A report released Monday by Amnesty International said 38 African countries criminalize homosexuality. In four of those—Mauritania, northern Nigeria, southern Somalia, and Sudan—the punishment is death and the laws appear to have broad public support. A June Pew Research Center survey found at least nine of 10 respondents in Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, and Nigeria believe society should not accept homosexuality.
Obama was cautious in how he approached the issue while in Africa, despite pressure from Amnesty International to actively promote same-sex rights, as reported by Reuters. But Obama did tell U.S. diplomats and aid workers to champion the issue in other countries. Gay rights also did not come up in Obama’s private meeting with Sall at the presidential palace, but Obama said that while he respects differing religious views, he believes it’s important to have nondiscrimination under the law.
Obama said he’s directing his administration to review current federal laws to determine the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling. He said he personally believes that gay couples legally married in one state should retain their benefits if they move to another state.
During his visit, the president focused on Senegal’s recent achievements since its independence half a century ago. Sall ousted an incumbent president who attempted to change the constitution to ensure his reelection. The power-grab sparked protests that led to Sall’s election.
“Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and one of the strongest partners that we have in the region,” Obama said. “It’s moving in the right direction with reforms to deepen democratic institutions.”