President Obama Makes Case for Gay Rights in Socially Conservative Kenya; 700 Kenyan Pastors Object to Message

( [email protected] ) Jul 28, 2015 01:03 AM EDT
In his historic visit to East Africa over the weekend, President Barack Obama went to his father’s ancestral homeland and made the case for gay rights there. However, some pastors in socially conservative Kenya, along with the country’s president, have voiced their objection to Obama’s remarks.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at an indoor stadium in Nairobi July 26, 2015. Obama told Kenya on Saturday the United States was ready to work more closely in the battle against Somalia's Islamist group al Shabaab, but chided his host on gay rights and said no African state should discriminate over sexuality. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In his historic visit to East Africa over the weekend, President Barack Obama went to his father's ancestral homeland and made the case for gay rights there. However, some pastors in socially conservative Kenya, along with the country's president, have voiced their objection to Obama's remarks.

According to Kristen Holmes and Eugene Scott of CNN, the president met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. One of the topics focused on Kenya's gay rights record.

"When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode," Obama said. "And bad things happen."

CNN reported that any sexual activity between men is illegal under Kenyan law, which is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. While many Kenyan leaders warned Obama not to bring up the issue of gay rights, the president argued that legalized discrimination of gays was similar to racial discrimination in the United States.

"When a government gets in a habit of people treating people differently, those habits can spread," Obama said. "As an African-American, I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently under the law."

Kenyatta responded that although the U.S. and Kenya shared many common values and goals, gay rights was not one of them.

"The fact of the matter is Kenya and the U.S. share so many values: common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families -- these are some things that we share," Kenyatta said. "But there are some things that we must admit we don't share. Our culture, our societies don't accept."

Kenyatta added that his country wanted "to focus on other areas."

"It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept," Kenyatta said. "This is why I repeatedly say for Kenyans today the (gay rights issue) is generally a non-issue."

According to Dr. Thomas Williams of Breitbart, a series of African bishops and other religious leaders reminded Obama that the Church's stance against homosexual acts will not change. One of those objectors included Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja Diocese in Nigeria.

"Unfortunately, we are living in a world where these things have now become quite acceptable but for the fact that they are acceptable doesn't mean that they are right," Onaiyekan said.

Onaiyekan acknowledged that while public opinion may be trending toward accepting acts of homosexuality, he argued that public opinion and morality are not the same.

"The Catholic Church considers itself as carrying the banner of the truth in the world that has allowed itself to be so badly deceived," Onaiyeken said.

According to Breitbart, 700 Kenyan evangelical pastors wrote an open letter before Obama's visit to Kenya, urging him not to push the LGBT agenda in their country. Mark Kariuki, who represents an alliance of 38,000 churches and 10 million Kenyan Christians, mainly drafted the letter.

"We do not want him to come and talk on homosexuality in Kenya or push us to accepting that which is against our faith and culture," Kariuki said, adding that while he welcomed Obama's visit, he was not interested in "the gay talk."

Williams reported that Obama's views on gay rights have even riled some black Christians in the United States. One of them included Rev. William Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors, who argued that homosexuals have never been enslaved or oppressed.

"I marched with many people back in those days and I have reached out to some of my friends who marched with me, and all of them are shocked," Owens said. "They never thought they would see this day that gay rights would be equated with civil rights. Not one agreed with this comparison."

Owens contended in fiery remarks that the president was "a disgrace to the black community" for drawing the comparison.

"He is rewriting history. We didn't suffer and die for gay marriage," Owens said. "We marched for opportunity, equality, justice, freedom from oppression. We are the true heirs of the civil rights movement. We have a new movement to reclaim the 'real' civil rights movement."

CNN reported that besides talking about gay rights, both Obama and Kenyatta addressed Kenya's economy, the fight against terrorism, and Obama's personal connection to the country of his father's birth.

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