In just a few weeks, President Obama will visit Kenya. It's an important visit for many reasons, not least because many Kenyans hope that his familial link to the country can lead to a better relationship between the United States and East Africa.
On Sunday, Justin Muturi, the speaker of Kenya's National Assembly, warned that parliament has the ability to "sanction any advances perceived to encroach on our social fabric," according to the Star, a local newspaper. "As an individual and a Christian, I am opposed to homosexuality and cannot condone gay practices."
Muturi was one of five Kenyan lawmakers at a cathedral fundraising event on Sunday who told the audience that Obama should not be allowed to bring up the issue of gay rights during his visit. Another, Charles Njagagua, said Obama should be ejected from the Kenyan parliament if he mentions gay rights, the Nation newspaper reported, while Rose Mitaru said the country was ready to reject any aid if it is tied to gay marriage.
In Kenya, where gay sex is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, such an opinion is not unusual. On Monday, a handful of people in Nairobi gathered for a protest against homosexuality. “When Obama comes, we are asking him to respect the morals of the Kenyans, respect the faith of the Kenyans,” Bishop Mark Kariuki, a leader of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, which called for the protest, told the Associated Press.
Video shot by the Star shows the protesters chanting slogans that included "Obama, no gay."
Online, some Kenyan social media users echoed the statement, using the hashtag #KenyansMessageToObama to push an anti-homosexual message.
Whether Obama will mention gay rights during his trip is unclear. In the aftermath of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, gay marriage is being perceived as one of the key successes of his two terms in office. He also has a history here: Before a trip to Africa in 2013, Obama made a statement in support of gay rights, prompting the president of Senegal to say that his country was "still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality."
Asked about the Kenyan lawmakers' comments on Monday, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said there would be no constraints on what Obama would discuss during his trip to Kenya. "We have been clear that when the president travels around the world he does not hesitate to raise concerns about human rights," Earnest said.
Some critics have argued that Obama's Kenya visit is ill-timed, but the president has recently shown a willingness to seek dialogue with many governments at odds with Washington. Homosexuality is a tricky subject in much of the African continent, however, partly because of colonial-era laws and the work of Western evangelical preachers. More than half of the countries on the continent have laws criminalizing homosexuality, and it is punishable by death in some places.
A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center found that Kenya was one of a number of countries where the majority of people rejected gay rights: Just 1 percent said the country should accept homosexuals.
David Nakamura contributed reporting to this story