President Barack Obama warned Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that enacting a proposed anti-gay law would be detrimental to diplomatic relations on Feb. 16. The proposed law mandates 14 years imprisonment on the first conviction and up to life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” Ugandan lawmakers redacted capital punishment after an international outcry in 2009. More outcry is needed. The United States currently provides Uganda with military advisers to aid in actions against the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony. The threat of removing American support could be enough to halt the bill’s progress. This same strategy should be employed domestically. States that propose homophobic measures should be met with pushback from the federal government.
Meanwhile, as Uganda implements its discriminatory policy, the United States is experiencing human rights violations of its own. Last week, Kansas state representatives passed a measure that would allow businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples. Although the bill did not make it to the state Senate, it is still concerning that it was proposed in the first place. Utah has a law that prohibits the “advocacy of homosexuality” and Alabama mandates that sexual education classes teach that “homosexuality is a criminal offense.” As Obama takes a tough stance on LGBTQ rights internationally, he must remember that there are still human rights hurdles at home he must overcome.
The Obama administration has made significant strides in supporting gay rights in the United States. In 2012, Obama made waves when he publicly stated his support for gay marriage. Just last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a speech that the federal government would be extending recognition of same-sex marriages in federal legal matters. Although the decree will do little to change procedure in state-level courts, the announcement sent a strong message to state governments and established the Obama administration’s attitude toward gay marriage going forward.
While Obama has offered more vocal support to the LGBTQ movement than any other sitting president, the time has come for him to turn encouraging words into meaningful actions. Although presidents have greater authority in foreign policy than national issues, the Obama administration should utilize its influence to hasten the spread of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights throughout the country. In a recent statement, Obama emphasized that the anti-homosexuality bill could harm relations with Uganda. Until the United States adopts a domestic policy that more fully protects the LGBTQ community, Obama’s warning will only convey a tragic irony, not a push for forceful advocacy.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 19 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]