May 15 (GIN) – President Obama’s recent remarks giving “his personal view” on gay marriage caused a carousel of emotions around the world, with many Africans, including clerics from Kenya, where he has family ties, unable to reconcile with what they say, “God Himself objects.”
Currently, every country except South Africa has some form of legislation criminalizing homosexuality. Many countries – including South Africa – are considering introducing new laws further stigmatizing same-sex relationships.
Gay rights activists fear that Obama’s message of tolerance will only prompt African leaders to turn up the volume on their anti-homosexual stance.
“Obama’s comments will provide another opportunity for religious fundamentalists to raise their homophobic rhetoric,” said Damian Ugwu, regional Africa program coordinator for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “In Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, these remarks are going to get a lot of bashing.”
Nigeria’s senate has passed a bill which criminalizes gay rights advocacy with up to 10 years’ imprisonment, although critics say it is unlikely to become law.
Still, added Ugwu, “for us as gay rights activists in Africa, it’s a welcome development to know we have an ally like Obama. The fact that the most powerful person in the world is recognising the need to respect people and promote the rights of sexual minorities, can only help us.”
In Kenya, where homosexual offenses carry penalties of between five and 14 years imprisonment, activists say Obama’s comments will have resonate more with ordinary people because of his Kenyan roots.
“The fact that these comments come from Obama make it much harder for people in Kenya to sit back and say that gay rights are just a western idea,” said Monica Mbaru, a gay rights activist in Kenya.
“If it had been say President Clinton, people would have said homosexuality is just a white disease, but with Obama there is an ownership for the people here. Just like we have heard statements from others like Desmond Tutu, these are African elders who resonate with the local people, and their statements are taken very seriously – they are opinion shapers in this region.”