* Many African nations outlaw homosexuality
* Gay discrimination erodes freedom, Obama says
* U.S. Supreme Court approved same sex marriage in June
By Edith Honan and Jeff Mason
NAIROBI, July 25 U.S. President Barack Obama
told Africans on Saturday that discriminating against gays was
like treating people differently because of race, drawing
criticism from anti-gay activists who said he was imposing his
morality on the continent.
The comments in Kenya by Obama, whose father was Kenyan and
who Africans claim as their son, exposed the divide on gay
rights between Western states and religiously conservative
Africa where many states ban homosexual relations.
"As an African American in the United States I am painfully
aware of what happens when people are treated differently,"
Obama told a news conference in Nairobi during his first trip as
president to his father's homeland.
Standing next to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Obama said
his message across Africa was the same: "When you start treating
people differently, not because of any harm they are doing to
anybody but because they are different, that's the path whereby
freedoms begin to erode."
Obama, who has shown increasing support for gay rights
during his presidency, hailed last month's U.S. Supreme Court
decision to allow same-sex marriage in the United States.
Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, who attended talks
with Obama, had said in May there was "no room" for gays in
Kenya, where homosexual relations are outlawed.
Anti-gay laws often have broad public approval in African
nations where many hold conservative religious views and see
homosexuality as immoral.
"He is connecting himself to Africa but he is offending the
values of Africa," said Kidaha Vincent, who heads Kenya's fringe
Republican Liberty Party.
In response to the same question, Kenyatta said the United
States and Kenya shared many values but not in all areas, saying
gay rights was a "non-issue" for Kenyans.
"There are some things that we must admit we don't share -
our culture, our societies don't accept," Kenyatta said, drawing
scattered applause after speaking.
Eric Gitari, who heads a Kenyan gay rights groups, praised
Obama for tackling the matter on the basis of "the dignity of
people by speaking about simple human to human interactions."
U.S. group Human Rights First also issued a statement
praising Obama for addressing the issue as one of "equality
under the law".
Some African rights groups had urged Obama to tread
cautiously on the issue to avoid inflaming public opinion. South
Africa is the only African nation to allow same-sex marriage.
Neighbouring Uganda, which moved to toughen prison sentences
against gays in 2014, faced stern Western criticism and a halt
in some aid before a court struck down the law. U.S. Secretary
State John Kerry had called the code "atrocious".
(Writing by Edmund Blair)