President Obama publicly disagreed with his Kenyan counterpart over gay rights today as he urged African nations not to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation.
The president made the remarks at a news conference he held with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who called gay rights in his country a “non-issue.” Obama discussed the subject on his first full day in Kenya while drawing on his own background as an African-American in the U.S.
“If somebody is a law-abiding citizen who is going about their business and working in a job and obeying the traffic signs and doing all the other things that good citizens are supposed to do and not harming anybody, the idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong,” Obama said.
Shortly after, Kenyatta said while the U.S. and Kenya share many values, gay rights is an issue on which the two countries disagree.
“There are some things that we must agree we don’t share,” he said. “Our culture, our societies don’t accept [homosexuality].”
“For Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue. We want to focus on other issues that really are day-to-day issues for our people,” Kenyatta said.
Kenyatta added it was difficult to impose beliefs on the Kenyan people that they “do not accept.”
“This issue is not really an issue that is on the foremost mind of Kenyans and that is a fact,” he said.
Kenyatta went on to say, “Maybe once, like you have, [we’ve made progress] on some of these challenges, we can begin to look at new ones. But as of now, the fact remains that this issue is not really an issue that is in the foremost mind of Kenyans.”
While the U.S. has made strides on gay rights issues, most recently with the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, many countries in Africa, including Kenya, hold more conservative views. Same sex relations are still illegal in Kenya and Ethiopia, where the president will travel on Sunday.
Ahead of the trip, several Kenyan political and religious leaders had warned President Obama not to discuss gay rights while in the country.