Malawi President Joyce Banda has backed away from a pledge to decriminalize being gay in the African nation.

In a interview with the AP, Banda, who ascended to her position in April after the death of her predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika, explained that she was respecting public sentiment on the issue.

“Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realizes that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now,” she told the AP on Wednesday after addressing the United Nations General Assembly. “I as a leader have no right to influence how people feel.”

After assuming her office, Banda backed repeal of Malawi's indecency and unnatural acts laws.

In 2010, Mutharika pardoned two men who were charged with and found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency for participating in a symbolic engagement ceremony. However, Mutharika remained opposed to gay rights, describing the gay ceremony as “satanic” and “a crime against our culture, against our religion and against our laws.” The men had been sentenced to serve 14 years of hard labor.

The sentence was condemned by the United States and Britain. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley called the harsh sentence “appalling.”

Banda said she wanted the international community to let Malawi debate gay rights on its own terms.

“Where Malawi is and most African countries are, is maybe where America or the UK were about 100 years ago,” she said. “The best thing the world can do is to allow each country to take its course, to allow each country to have that debate freely without the pressure of being pushed.”