"And, you know, the state does not need to weigh in on religious doctrine. The state just has to say, we're going to treat everyone the same under the law." - President Obama
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President Obama is visiting Kenya, the first sitting American president to do so, where he lost no time addressing the subject of gay rights in spite of warnings and threats from some Kenyan lawmakers and demonstrations by Kenyan churches. The president held a joint press conference today with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, and "went there" on the very first question.
"Similarly, with respect to the rights of gays and lesbians, I have been consistent all across Africa on this. 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, and I say that recognizing there may be people who have different religious or cultural beliefs.
But the issue is, how does the state operate relative to people. If you look at the history of countries around the world, when you start treating people differently, not because of any harm they are doing, but because they are different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen. And when the government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread. And as an African American on the United States, I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently. And there were all sorts of rationalizations by the power structure that were provided for decades in the United States for segregation and Jim Crow and slavery, and they were wrong.
So, I'm not equivocal on this; if somebody is a law abiding citizen, is going about their business and working at a job, obeying the traffic signs and doing all the other things good citizens are supposed to do and not harming anybody, the idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love, is wrong. Full stop.
And, you know, the state does not need to weigh in on religious doctrine. The state just has to say, we're going to treat everyone the same under the law. And then everyone else can have their own opinions. Alright?"
Kenyan President Kenyatta then replied to the reporter's question, saying about gay rights:
"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 impose upon people what 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. We want to focus on other issues that are day-to-day living for our people."
I would suggest to President Kenyatta that as long as Kenyans can be legally imprisoned for having sex, gay rights are an issue.
We'll let you know what the President says on gay rights when he addresses the Kenyan Parliament, where lawmakers have threatened to walk out and/or have him removed, should he bring up the issue.
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