Gay Rights to be on Barack Obama's radar during trip to Africa

Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama is expected to be in Africa in late June and early July (Reuters)

President Barack Obama's trip to Africa next month may result in a stark juxtaposition between the growing power of the gay rights movement in the U.S. and the criminalization of homosexuality throughout the African continent.

Obama is scheduled to be in Africa in late June and early July, the same period in which the Supreme Court is likely to issue highly anticipated rulings on a pair of gay marriage cases. The court does not say in advance when its rulings will be issued, but the gay marriage cases are expected to be among the last decisions announced before the justices begin their summer break at the end of June.

Homosexuality is considered a criminal offense in many African nations, including Senegal and Tanzania, two of the countries Obama will visit. South Africa, the third country on the president's itinerary, has broad protections for homosexuals and is the only African country to legalize gay marriage.

Gay rights activist Richard Socarides said Obama could use the rulings as a "teachable moment'' if the justices move to expand rights for same-sex couples.

"If the timing works out so that he's there, it may provide a perfect opportunity for him to speak out about the principles we value in our democracy and how we would hope that others follow it,'' said Socarides, who worked in the White House during the Clinton administration.

The White House did not respond to questions about what role the Supreme Court rulings or the larger issue of gay rights would have during Obama's trip.

One of the cases before the Supreme Court is a challenge to California's voter-approved Proposition 8 that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The other seeks to strike down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies to legally married same-sex couples a range of benefits that generally are available to married heterosexuals.

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