The Commercial Appeal
Obama, host differ on gays
Senegal’s president rejects calls for equal rights in Africa
DAKAR, Senegal — In a clash of cultures, President Barack Obama on Thursday urged African leaders to extend equal rights to gays and lesbians but was bluntly rebuked by Senegal’s president, who said his country “still isn’t ready” to decriminalize homosexuality.
Obama opened his weeklong trip to Africa one day after the U.S. Supreme Court expanded federal benefits for married gay couples. In his first in-person comments on the ruling, Obama said the court’s decision marked a “proud day for America.” He pressed for similar recognition for gays in Africa, wading into a sensitive area in a region where dozens of countries outlaw homosexuality and a few punish violations with death.
“When it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally,” Obama said during a news conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall.
Sall gave no ground. Senegal is “very tolerant,” he assured Obama, but is “still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality.” Sall said countries make decisions on complex issues in their own time, noting that Senegal has outlawed capital punishment while other countries have not — a pointed jab at the U.S., where the death penalty is legal in many states.
Obama’s trip, which also includes stops in South Africa and Tanzania, marks the most extensive visit to Africa by the first black U. S. president since he took office. Many Africans have expressed disappointment over Obama’s lack of direct engagement with affairs on their continent yet he was still enthusiastically welcomed.
The president is being accompanied by his wife, daughters Malia and Sasha, and mother-in-law Marian Robinson. Following the president’s meetings with Sall, the family boarded a ferry bound for Goree Island, which by some accounts was the center of the slave trade.
The Obamas were giv- en a tour of the salmoncolored House of Slaves where Africans were held before being sold into slavery
he president then peered out into the vast Atlantic through the Door of No Return, where shackled men, women and children left Africa, inching across a plank to the hull of a waiting ship.
“Obviously, for an African-American, an AfricanAmerican president, to be able to visit this site, I think, gives me even greater motivation in terms of human rights around the world,” Obama said after his tour.