President Barack Obama said Tuesday he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.”
Speaking to “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, the president was asked by the host about recent legislation in Russia that cracks down on gay rights.
“Do you think it will affect the Olympics?” Leno asked the President, whose own views on the subject have evolved in the course of his presidency. Russia is slated to host the Winter Olympics in 2014, in the city of Sochi.
Obama was adamant. “Every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
He also noted Russia’s eagerness for a successful Olympic games, saying "I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently.”
This was the first time Obama had commented on Russia’s new anti-LGBT laws, which have come under increasing scrutiny as questions mount about the country’s intentions during the Olympic games.
But the president was careful to avoid singling out Russia, pointing out that many leaders he meets with support similar legislation in their nations.
“When I traveled to Africa, there were some countries that are doing a lot of good things for their people, who we’re working with and helping on development issues, but in some cases have persecuted gays and lesbians. And it makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes.”
Obama may have been referring to a June 27 press conference in Senegal, when CNN’s Jessica Yellin questioned him about the topic of gay rights at home and abroad.
“Every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions and when it comes to peoples personal views and their religious faith, etc. I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there. But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally.” The president said at the time.
When Yellin posed the same question to President Macky Sall of Senegal, he responded, “we are not ready to decriminalize homosexuality.”
Obama had a similar response about global gay rights on Tuesday night, telling Leno that “when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, that whether you're discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country.”