Senegal’s Sall Spars with Obama over Homosexuality

by Will Allen

During his joint press conference on June 27 with Senegalese president Macky Sall, President Barack Obama extolled the right of homosexual couples to marry — and was swiftly if courteously rebuked by his host, who presides over a country where homosexual acts are still criminal. When asked by an American reporter whether he had “press[ed] President Sall to make sure that homosexuality is decriminalized in Senegal,” Obama replied:

Now, this topic did not come up . . . . But let me just make a general statement. The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa. So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions. And when it comes to peoples’ personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.

So far, so banal. But then the president continued:

But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally. I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. That’s my personal view.  And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil-rights struggle to make sure that happens [sic]. So my basic view is that, regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you . . . people should be treated equally.  And that’s a principle that I think applies universally, and the good news is it’s an easy principle to remember. Every world religion has this basic notion that is embodied in the Golden Rule — treat people the way you want to be treated.  And I think that applies here as well.

In his response, Sall began with the rather coy observation that “on the issue of homosexuality, Mr. President, you did make a long development on this issue.”  

Senegal, as far as it is concerned, is a very tolerant country which does not discriminate in terms of inalienable rights of the human being. We don’t tell anybody that he will not be recruited because he is gay or he will not access a job because his sexual orientation is different. But we are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality. I’ve already said it in the past . . . . But of course this does not mean that we are all homophobic. But the society has to absolve [sic] these issues. It is just like the capital punishment. In our country, we have abolished it for many years. In other countries, it is still the order of the day, because the situation in the country requires it.  And we do respect the choice of each country. But please be assured that Senegal is a country of freedom and homosexuals are not being prosecuted, persecuted. But we must also show respect for the values and choices of the other Senegalese people.

The Corner

The one and only.