In a broad-ranging interview on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama addressed Russia's recently passed anti-gay laws by saying 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."
The comments come about six months before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia -- a global event that has increased the amount of international attention being paid to Russia's new laws, one of which makes it illegal to spread "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations."
Foreigners and Russians alike can be arrested under the law, and some see it as having led to a spike in attacks on gay and lesbian Russians in recent weeks.
The issue has split the gay rights movement over whether to boycott the games.
On Tuesday night, Leno broached the topic by saying the laws had "shocked" him, comparing Russia's arrests of gay people to Nazi Germany's treatment of Jews and gays.
"It starts with that," Leno said. "You round up people who you don't like. Why is not more of the world outraged?"
Obama met the question head on:
"I've been very clear that when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, that whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country, and I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them," Obama said.
Obama also said that "what's happening in Russia is not unique," bringing up his recent travels in Africa, where he said some countries that are doing good work for their citizens have also "persecuted gays and lesbians."
The president said it "makes for some uncomfortable press conferences," but that he feels it is important to speak out about.
"One of the things that I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly, because that's what we stand for and I believe that that's a precept that's not unique to America. That's something that should apply everywhere."
Leno then asked Obama whether he thinks Russia's laws will affect the Olympics.
Obama responded by saying he thinks Russia and President Vladimir Putin understand most countries participating in the Olympics won't tolerate discrimination against gays and lesbians.
"They're athletes. They're there to compete, and if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then 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."
OK, so Obama may have been confusing the Winter Olympics for the Summer Olympics -- but you get the drift.
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