Gay rights a delicate issue for Obama during Kenya visit

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Gay Rights a Delicate Issue for Obama During Kenya Visit

Much like his last trip to Africa, President Obama is expected to get the red-carpet treatment when he — America's first black president — visits his ancestral homeland of Kenya this weekend. But not everyone's as thrilled.

"When Obama comes, we are asking him to respect the morals of the Kenyans, to respect the faith of Kenyans," a protest leader said.

His visit has galvanized anti-gay protesters, church leaders and politicians.

"Everybody deserves fair treatment — equal treatment — in the eyes of the law and the state. And that includes gays, lesbians, transgender persons," President Obama told the BBC on the eve of his Africa trip.

President Obama's indicated that while in Kenya he'll bring up the country's poor track record on LGBT rights, much to the dismay of his Kenyan counterpart.

"We as a country, as a continent, are faced with much more serious issues," Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

Kenya's gay men and women surely don't see it that way. Homosexuality remains illegal in the country, and gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

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Gay rights a delicate issue for Obama during Kenya visit
President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at Kenyatta International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. Obama is traveling on a two-nation African tour where he will become the the first sitting U.S. president to visit Kenya and Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One upon arrival at Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. Obama arrived in Africa on a five-day tour with stops in his father's homeland of Kenya, before traveling to Ethiopia. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama waves as he walks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to sign a guest book after arriving at Kenyatta International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. Obama's link to Kenya, where he began his first visit as U.S. president, is a father he barely knew but whose influence can nonetheless be seen in his son's presidency. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Eight year-old Joan Wamaitha greets President Barack Obama with flowers as he arrives at Kenyatta International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. Obama's link to Kenya, where he began his first visit as U.S. president Friday, is a father he barely knew but whose influence can nonetheless be seen in his son's presidency. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Barack Obama receives flowers from Joan Wamaitha, 8, upon his arrival at Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on July 24, 2015. US President Barack Obama arrived in Kenya late today, his first visit to the country of his father's birth since his election as president. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama waves after being greeted by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, on his arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 24, 2015. Obama began his first visit to Kenya as U.S. president Friday. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, watches as President Barack Obama, center, hugs his half-sister, Auma Obama, after he arrived at Kenyatta International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. Obama is traveling on a two-nation African tour where he will become the the first sitting U.S. president to visit Kenya and Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, watches as President Barack Obama, center, hugs his half-sister Auma Obama, after he arrived at Kenyatta International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. Obama is traveling on a two-nation African tour where he will become the the first sitting U.S. president to visit Kenya and Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Barack Obama (L) signs a guestbook alongside Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta upon arrival on Air Force One at Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. Obama arrived in Africa on a five-day tour with stops in his father's homeland of Kenya, before traveling to Ethiopia. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, left, talks with President Barack Obama as he signs a guest book after arriving at Kenyatta International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2015, in Nairobi. Obama is traveling on a two-nation African tour where he will become the the first sitting U.S. president to visit Kenya and Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
People watch from inside a terminal as US President Barack Obama arrives on Air Force One at Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. Obama arrived in Africa on a five-day tour with stops in his father's homeland of Kenya, before traveling to Ethiopia. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama sits alongside his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah (L) and half-sister Auma Obama (R), during a gathering of family at his hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. US President Barack Obama arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi late Friday, making his first visit to the country of his father's birth since his election as president. Obama was greeted by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with a handshake and embrace as he stepped off Air Force One, at the start of a weekend visit during which he will address an entrepreneurship summit and hold talks on trade and investment, counter-terrorism, democracy and human rights. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama attends a gathering of family at his hotel in Nairobi at his hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. US President Barack Obama arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi late Friday, making his first visit to the country of his father's birth since his election as president. Obama was greeted by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with a handshake and embrace as he stepped off Air Force One, at the start of a weekend visit during which he will address an entrepreneurship summit and hold talks on trade and investment, counter-terrorism, democracy and human rights. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Kenya's not unique. According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is illegal in 35 African nations. In four of them, it can be punishable by death. And there appears to be strong public support for these laws.

A 2013 Pew Research Center poll found over 90 percent of people in Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya believed homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

Human rights advocates say President Obama — beloved by so many in Africa — should take this opportunity to sway public opinion. But what he doesn't want is to be accused of trying to impose Western values.

"When it comes to people's personal views and their religious faith, etc., I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there. 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," President Obama said during a press conference in Senegal in 2013.

That said, LGBT advocates have scored some small victories on the African continent. Last month, Mozambique decriminalized homosexuality.
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