President Barack Obama said Tuesday he has "no patience for countries that try to treat gays, lesbians or transgendered persons" negatively, speaking directly to a question about the wave of anti-gay laws recently passed in Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi in 2014.
Obama made the comments, among others, during an appearance on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Obama said the recent changes in Russia were "not unique," referencing some African countries that also have laws that persecute gays.
"I've been very clear. When it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, 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," Obama said.
In June the Russian parliament passed a law that bans all "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" by a unanimous vote of the 436-member body. The bill is the latest in a string of events that have included attacks on gays in Russia, some of which have been fatal.
It's not clear if the country will arrest and jail gay athletes or visitors during the games, but it's a very real possibility as the law empowers authorities to detain anyone they suspect of being gay for up to 14 days before deporting them.
Just a day after publicly condemning the Russian law, President Obama canceled his scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin, citing tensions over Russia offering asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and human-rights concerns, among other issues, as the reason.
Activist groups such as the Human Rights Watch and Human Rights Campaign have also condemned the law.
"At the very least, this heinous law denies LGBT people in Russia the slightest shred of dignity and humanity," Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in an email to Al Jazeera. "But as we've seen in the news, people's lives are at stake thanks to this state-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia that reaches the highest levels of Russian government. President Obama is right to be concerned as the Olympic Games in Sochi draw near – not just for Americans traveling to Russia, but for those who must endure the law long after the last medal is won."
While Obama has publicly spoken out against the Russian laws, the U.S. has no plans to boycott the Winter Olympics because of them, and many of the games' major sponsors have remained mute on the issue.
The International Olympic Committee is also walking fine line with Sochi, as the discriminatory laws in Russia violate several areas of the Olympic charter.
"The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle,” the committee said in an email to Al Jazeera.
Yet that has done little, if anything, to get Russia to change its policies for the games. IOC officials told The New York Times they were assured the new laws would not be enforced during the games, while Russia's sports minister says he was told the opposite.
The United States Olympic Committee made clear in a statement on July 25, “while we strongly support equal rights for all,” the U.S. would still be participating in the games despite the controversy.
Rachel Denber, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Europe & Central Asia, said if the IOC doesn't take a firm stance against the Russian law, it could have major implications for future Olympics.
"It sets a terrible precedent," Denber said. "As long as this law stays on the books and as long as it's enforced, there will be controversy. The IOC still has a chance to avoid further controversy by saying very openly this law has to go."