(CNSNews.com) – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pushed back gently against President Obama’s promotion of homosexual and lesbian rights on Saturday, saying Kenyans had more pressing concerns to deal with, including health, education and “ensuring inclusivity of women.”
While Kenya and the U.S. shared many values, Kenyatta said during a joint press conference in Nairobi, “there are some things that we must admit we don’t share – our culture, our societies don’t accept. It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept.”
“This is why I repeatedly say that, for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue,” he added. “We want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for our people.
Enhancing economic development for women, health, education, infrastructure, providing power and encouraging entrepreneurship “are our key focuses,” Kenyatta continued.
“Maybe once, like you have overcome some of these challenges, we can begin to look at new ones,” he said. “But as of now, the fact remains that this [homosexuality] issue is not really an issue that is on the foremost mind of Kenyans, and that is the fact.”
The administration’s promotion of same-sex marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights caused rumbles ahead of Obama’s first trip as president to his father’s homeland, when some lawmakers and church leaders warned him not to raise the subject during his visit.
During Saturday’s press conference in at the Kenya State House in Nairobi, a reporter asked both leaders about it.
Obama said his views were consistent and “unequivocal.”
“I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law, and that they are deserving of equal protection under the law and that the state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation,” he said.
“And I say that, recognizing that there may be people who have different religious or cultural beliefs. But the issue is how does the state operate relative to people.”
Obama compared the issue to that of racial segregation in the U.S.
“As an African-American in the United States, I am painfully aware of the history of what happens when people are treated differently, under the law, and there were all sorts of rationalizations that were provided by the power structure for decades in the United States for segregation and Jim Crow and slavery, and they were wrong,” he said.
For any law-abiding citizen to be “treated differently or abused because of who they love, is wrong,” Obama said. “Full stop.”
“And the state does not need to weigh in on religious doctrine. The state just has to say we’re going to treat everybody equally under the law. And then everybody else can have their own opinions.”
Many in Africa shun homosexuality for cultural or religious reasons, and 36 of the continent’s 54 countries have laws prohibiting same-sex sexual acts on their statute books, according to data compiled by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
Kenyan law punishes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” with prison terms of 14 years in the case of consenting liaisons, and 21 years in cases where there was no consent or where consent was obtained by force, intimidation or deceit.
A 2011 report by the Kenya Human Rights Commission said LGBT Kenyans “are routinely abused, subjected to hate speech and incitement to violence, suffer physical violence in terms from mobs and occasionally raped by police, vigilantes and organized criminals.”
The report also cited harassment and extortion at the hands of state officials, some of whom it said “ask for sexual favors and charge those who do not comply with their demands with trumped up [criminal] charges.”
Last year the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which reports to the African Union, passed a resolution calling on African countries to “end all acts of violence and abuse … including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation or gender identities, ensuring proper investigation and diligent prosecution of perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures responsive to the needs of victims.”