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
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)
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)
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)
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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