And as recently as February of 2008, police rounded up men suspected of being homosexual after a Senegalese tabloid published photographs of a clandestine gay wedding in a suburb of Dakar. Gays went into hiding or fled to neighboring countries, but they were pushed out of Gambia by the president’s threat of decapitation.
As for Wednesday’s court ruling, Obama said he’s directing his administration to comb through every federal statute to quickly determine the implications of a decision that gave the nation’s legally married gay couples equal federal footing with all other married Americans.
He said he wants to make sure that gay couples who deserve benefits under the ruling get them quickly. Obama said he personally believes that gay couples legally married in one state should retain their benefits if they move to another state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage.
“I believe at the root of who we are as a people, as Americans, is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law,” he said. “We believe in basic fairness. And what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.”
Obama also offered prayers for former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is gravely ill, ahead of Obama’s planned visit to his country this weekend. Obama said he was inspired to become political active by Mandela’s example in the anti-apartheid movement of being willing to sacrifice his life for a belief in equal treatment.
“I think he’s a hero for the world,” Obama said. “And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we’ll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”
Later Obama plans to reflect on the ties many African-Americans share with the continent as he takes a tour of Goree Island, Africa’s westernmost point. Africans reportedly were shipped off into slavery across the Atlantic Ocean through the island’s “Door of No Return.”
Thousands of boisterous revelers welcomed Obama’s motorcade Thursday morning in Dakar, cheering and waving homemade signs as the first African-American president made his way to the presidential palace. A large sign outside his hotel gate had pictures of smiling Obama and Sall that read, “Welcome home, President Obama.” Some in the crowd drummed, danced and sang, and many wore white as a symbol for peace.
Obama’s focus in Senegal is on the modern-day achievements of the former French colony after half a century of independence. Sall ousted an incumbent who attempted to change the constitution to make it easier for him to be re-elected and pave the way for his son to succeed him. The power grab sparked protests, fueled by hip-hop music and social media, that led to Sall’s election.
“Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and one of the strongest partners that we have in the region,” Obama said. “It’s moving in the right direction with reforms to deepen democratic institutions.”
But such people-powered democratic transitions are not always the story of the African experience. Fighting and human rights abuses limited Obama’s options for stops in his first major tour of sub-Saharan Africa since he took office more than four years ago. Obama is avoiding his father’s homeland, Kenya, whose president has been charged with war crimes, and Nigeria, the country with the continent’s most dominant economy. Nigeria is enveloped in an Islamist insurgency and military crackdown.
Obama’s itinerary in Senegal was designed to send a message, purposefully delivered in a French-speaking, Muslim-majority nation, to other Africans in countries that have not made the strides toward democracy that Senegal has. Obama plans to meet with civil society leaders at the Goree Institute and visited the Supreme Court to speak about the importance of an independent judiciary and the rule of law in Africa’s development.