Obama takes a gamble on gay rights
Posted Friday, May 11 2012 at 18:33
By endorsing the marriage of same-sex couples this week, he has taken a stand on a subject that’s one of the most controversial in America.
It is a social issue that’s divided the country: Some states are passing laws to allow it, and others — like North Carolina this week — are voting against it.
The issue of gay marriage is no stranger to Africa. Uganda’s “kill the gays” legislation has re-emerged this spring, and anti-gay rhetoric is stronger in many African churches and street corners than the Bible’s first commandment and Jesus’ golden rule.
We all know the arguments pro and con, and so they’re not worth repeating here. But there are issues worth exploring.
What’s fascinating in America is that the issue is counter-intuitive.
America’s Democrats often argue for government solutions and oversight to complex problems. Our nation’s auto industry was bailed out by President Obama because he felt that such a collapse would do irreparable harm to the country.
But Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney argued that the car makers should fail or succeed on their own merits — no matter the consequences to the American worker.
In the gay marriage battle, though, political realities are upside down. Democrats do not want the government to interfere with an individual’s decision on marriage. Republicans want the government to use its authority to ban it.
Another fact is that America’s gay population is relatively small. Experts estimate it at about 4 million or 1.7 per cent of the population. It’s impossible to get a similar count in Africa because homosexuality is criminalised in many countries, including Kenya.
But it’s not unreasonable to guess a similar percentage.
So one must ask why is so much attention put on an issue that touches so few?
When I’ve been to Kenya, President Obama’s popularity is overwhelming.
But is Obama’s endorsement of gay rights causing a fracture in his African support? The Ugandans are not shy about their displeasure with the Obama administration. They are angry about the tie between US aid and fair treatment of homosexuals.
Here, in President Obama’s own words, is his reasoning: “What I’ve come to realise is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens.
Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn’t dawn on them that their friends’ parents should be treated differently.”
The stand is courageous. The president is in a virtual dead heat with Romney in the polls. Many Democrats are still sitting on the sidelines, not quite awake to the reality of possible defeat.
The Republicans are delighted. The president may have done what is morally correct in his mind, but was it the best decision politically at this time?
If Obama was running for president in Kenya, he might lose based on this one issue. In America, the stakes are just as high.