WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday denounced as "odious" a proposed anti-gay law in Uganda that calls for the death penalty in cases of "aggravated homosexuality."
"We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are, whether it is here in the United States or... more extremely, in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda," Obama said.
The US leader made the remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, a bipartisan gathering of lawmakers and religious leaders in Washington DC.
US presidents traditionally attend the event, but it sparked controversy this year because the Christan group that is a sponsor of the meeting has been linked to Uganda's much-criticized anti-homosexual legislation.
A US ethics group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote a letter to Obama and senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers asking them not to attend the breakfast.
Obama also poked fun at birthers during the breakfast, as TPM Live Wire's Ben Frumin noted.
Calling once again for a return to civility in politics, the president declared that civility is "not a sign of weakness" and that he's "the first to confess I'm not always right."
"Surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith," the president said, pausing for a few seconds before adding, "or, for that matter, my citizenship."
The crowd laughed and applauded.
The New York Times' Caucus blog reported that "[t]he president did not" laugh or applaud, but failed to note that he delivered the line in a different pitch, paused for laughter, and then smiled.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, in town for meetings with US officials, also attended the prayer meeting with Obama and used his address to warn against intolerance.
"I want to defend the right of every person to his moral autonomy, the freedom of all to live with his beloved," he said.
Obama's comments at the meeting came a day after US lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced legislation condemning the controversial Ugandan bill.
The symbolic US measure asserted that "all people possess an intrinsic human dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, and share fundamental human rights," and warned the Ugandan bill, if enacted, "would set a troubling precedent."
Uganda has been criticized by the United States, the European Union and NGOs over the proposed legislation, which would also criminalize public discussion of homosexuality and could penalize an individual who knowingly rents property to a homosexual.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, and punishable by life imprisonment in some instances.
Video from TPMMuckraker:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/cNjzVpMlWa0&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1 expand=1]
(with AFP report)