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Obama's gay marriage support riles religious conservatives, but political effects not yet clear
President Barack Obama addressing a gay rights group in 2011.
May 9th, 2012
04:55 PM ET

Obama's gay marriage support riles religious conservatives, but political effects not yet clear

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage on Wednesday outraged conservative Christian leaders, who vowed to use it as an organizing tool in the 2012 elections, but the move is also activating the liberal base, raising big questions about who gains and loses politically.

“It cuts both ways - it activates both Democratic and Republican base voters,” said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron. “The most likely effect is that it makes an already close election even closer.”

In an interview with ABC News, Obama said, "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

The announcement puts Obama at odds with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who opposes same-sex marriage and who voiced that opposition in an interview on Wednesday.

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"Considering that 10 of the 16 battleground states have marriage amendments that could be overturned by the president's new policy position on marriage, today's announcement almost ensures that marriage will again be a major issue in the presidential election,” said Tony Perkins, president of the the conservative Family Research Council.

“The president has provided a clear contrast between him and his challenger, Mitt Romney," Perkins continued. "Romney, who has signed a pledge to support a marriage protection amendment to the U.S. Constitution, may have been handed the key to social conservative support by President Obama."

Obama stressed in the interview that his support was personal and that he would leave the issue of marriage to the states. But many conservatives chafed at the idea that the president's personal views would not affect public policy.

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement saying the president's comments were "deeply saddening." Dolan's statement continued, "I pray for the President every day, and will continue to pray that he and his Administration act justly to uphold and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman."

Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church outside of Washington, DC, said that "I think the president has been in this place for awhile and that he chose this time because he thought that it might shift the balance of power." Jackson has long campaigned against same-sex marriage.

Ralph Reed, a top organizer among religious conservatives, said Obama’s announcement was a “gift to the Romney campaign.”

Romney, a Mormon who has evolved to a more conservative position on hot button social issues, has struggled with his party's largely evangelical conservative base in the primaries. But Reed said Obama’s gay marriage support would help Romney in many battleground states.

“The Obama campaign doesn’t have to worry about New York and California,” Reed said. “They have to worry about Ohio, Florida and Virginia and I don’t’ see evidence that it’s a winning issue in those states.”

Green said that public opinion about gay marriage has been shifting dramatically in recent years, with some polls showing more support than opposition. Green said that in many battlegrounds, including Ohio, it's impossible to nail down current public opinion on same-sex marriage. A Gallup Poll conducted this month found that 50% of American adults support legal recognition of same-sex marriage, while 48% oppose it.

Reed noted that same-sex marriage bans have passed in virtually every state they have appeared on the ballot, including in North Carolina on Tuesday. That’s a typically red state that Obama won in 2008 and that is the site of the Democrat's 2012 convention.

Many liberal groups were ecstatic over Obama’s support for gay marriage. “Congratulations, Mr. President, for making history today by becoming the first sitting president to explicitly support marriage for same-sex couples,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

In his interview with ABC, Obama talked about squaring his decision with his personal religious faith.

“We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others,” Obama said, referencing his wife, Michelle.

“But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule,” he said. “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

One key Obama constituency that may be angered by his Wednesday announcement is African-Americans, who tend to be more religious than whites. Though they hew heavily Democratic, African-Americans are generally conservative on social issues like gay marriage.

– CNN's Eric Marrapodi, Shannon Travis, and Mary Snow contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Gay marriage

soundoff (2,108 Responses)
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    September 13, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  5. Wisdom

    One step leads to another step, this is the wrong direction to take right now. All will see why soon enough. Marriage represents a man and a woman, always has. It is surprising that the gay americans don't want t heir own version of marriage, something that represents what their union means to them. Why have all the uproar? It's been one way for thousands of years, everyone has been fine with the traditional idea of marriage, why does it have to change? Take the tax breaks, but that's not the issue is it?

    June 2, 2012 at 3:22 am |
    • Thinker

      Personally, I think that if 'marriage' is determined to be a religious term, it can stay in the churches and temples and such and instead of obtaining a marriage lisence you go get a civil union lisence or something. Then both sides recieve equal treatment under the law. Of course, any such thing is horrid to social conservatives, and GLBT groups always seem to be trying to force religions to accept them as well (you will never get everyone to accept ANYTHING so you have to have COMPROMISE). I really don't understand why such a simple compromise like that would be so horrible, but I am a straight athiest and have no vested interest in the term 'marriage'.

      June 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  6. Leucadia Bob

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2yNM8_QbWQ&w=640&h=390]

    May 31, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  7. jennifer

    Of course the religious bigots are outraged. The government is moving FORWARD instead of backwards into the dark ages.

    May 31, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Palouse Luger

      Bravo! The next step is to recognize polygamy (among consenting adults) as legally protected. Our society has discriminated against polygamists for far too long!

      May 31, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  8. Joe

    Wow..so Jesus would have preached hatred? That argument fell flat back in the 60's.

    May 30, 2012 at 3:09 am |
  9. Follower of Christ

    "All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" America was a Christian based country what happen? The sin that God clearly states that He hates is the sin we fight for, is the sin we promote all over the media. The power of satan is crystal clear, the wrath of God will be even more clear. Repent, follow Jesus, and love everyone. Always remember this quote “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.” May God have mercy on this cursed world.

    May 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      If there is no God, you won't find out anything when you die, doofus.

      May 29, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Townes

      America was a Christian based country what happen? – Never been. The Founding Fathers were secularists, some among them were deists.
      The sin that God clearly states that He hates is the sin we fight for, is the sin we promote all over the media. – Like eating shellfish and wearing clothes of mixed fabrics, right?
      The power of satan is crystal clear, the wrath of God will be even more clear. Repent, follow Jesus, and love everyone. -Proof of your version of your god's existance?
      Always remember this quote “I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.” – Pascal's wager. You can be just as wrong as everyone else, as there can potentially be any deity, known or unknown to you. It is not a duality of Christian god or no god.

      May 30, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • Alan Zelhart

      Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong...Townes! James Madison said:

      "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship. Nor shall any national religion be established. Nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or in any pretext, infriged.

      Stop being clueless about what our forefathers wanted.

      May 31, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Palouse Luger

      Hey Townes, do a little research: "While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian." Quote from George Washington
      –The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-343.
      James Madison
      4th U.S. President

      "Cursed be all that learning that is contrary to the cross of Christ." Quote from James Madison
      –America's Providential History, p. 93.
      "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God." Quote from John Adams
      –Adams wrote this on June 28, 1813, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.

      Townes, before you speak, know your facts.

      May 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Jim

      Freak!

      June 1, 2012 at 4:43 am |
  10. Dani3l

    Can we please have an in-depth look on growing support for marriage equality, gay clergy and other LGBT concerns among religious progressives, acting in a conscientious and faith-based interpretation of the teachings of their religion?

    Thanks.

    May 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  11. jaclyn

    FINALLY! A president with courage!!!! HALLELUJAH!!!!

    May 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • K

      There is no courage ..he wants get into your pocket book only. Standing firm on what you believe that takes courage but to just deceive people for own benefit that I wouldn't call courage. What He did will corrupt America and some day he have to answer to his Maker. He needs prayers...so pray for him.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  12. voodkokk

    They will be clear in November.

    May 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  13. Dan Burress

    We as a nation cannot embrace moral standards that God says not to embrace if we wish to prosper,it is just that simple and uncomplicted.We will obey or persish, preiod, end of discussion.

    May 26, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense. Can you say delusional hubris ?

      May 26, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • grandma8

      very well put! :) Amen and Amen

      May 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • grandma8

      Just to make clear that My comment is in responce to Dan Burress Letter.....sorry for not stating that in my first responce.

      May 27, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • jaclyn

      Gee, Hitler said the same thing! Congrats!

      May 28, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Follower of Christ

      simple and well said. But it's only simple to those who are not blinded by the evil one. Watch more people criticize your post than agree and support it. Which proves the words of God "All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Lets do our job and just continue you praying for these people.

      May 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • sandalista

      And what exactly gives you the right to speak for everybody? Your God is exactly that; YOUR God. My holy, pink unicorn says otherwise..

      May 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Follower of Christ

      My God is the one who created me, you, and all things. So yes i speak for everyone. When I die my Creator will give me life again on that day. Hopefully your pink unicorn will do the same for you.

      May 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • K

      Truth is..it will never changes meanings or sugar code of meanings..will be same yesterday, today and forever..like our God
      You cover you eyes with hands and say there is no Sun that doesn't mean no Sun...Sun is up in the sky but you just chose to not to see specally at night we couldn't see the sun but it's there. Did you ever seeing wind?? So how do you really know there is wind? God is same.. not seen but He there.

      May 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  14. balance

    Can we be rational about a few things? I see some of the same things repeated on these forums so often. Christian evangelicals in America are not the same as the Taliban. No one here is cutting off anyone's head or hands- especially just for believing something different- or has any direction from church leaders to do so. Religion has almost no direct influence on law in everyday life except for the vestiges of so called "blue laws" that are so minor and so localized that they have become, at most, a quaint homage to values that have obviosly done a lot for this country. Christianity does not kill "millions of people". The history that is closest to that – the extremes of the inquisition or the crusades are 500 years old- are universally accepted as mistakes. The attempts to call Hitler a Christian are a stretch for many reasons- and it wasn' a religius crusade anyway. It is in fact, kind of weird that Christians should be on the defensive from a humanitarian standpoint. No group in history has fed and clothed and cared for as many people. No group – especialy considering that they are not the largest religion- has given more money, provided more medical care or fresh water. They continue to do so today in the worst places on earth. To continue to call Christians as a whole "haters" requires some serious denial of history and what is going on in the world.

    May 25, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • closet atheist

      Well-articulated.

      However, as a taxpayer, I'd prefer that the church(es) lose their tax-exempt status in the United States. They can still perform these good works, just without my assistance. These good deeds of the church also work remarkable well as a recruiting mechanism, which I'm not comfortable paying for.

      I know slightly off topic, but thought I'd throw it out there.

      Also, regarding Hitler... I agree that you could say it wasn't a religious crusade. He did, however, manipulate people using their religious fervor to perform vile acts (or, at the very least, look away). Religion is very easily weilded as a weapon by the clever and power-hungry.

      May 25, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • GauisCaesar

      Agreed! Many of the "human rights" people refer to come directly from Christianity! the idea of the weak or poor being the same as everyone else, this is not found in all cultures. The group that brought this to the west are Christians....

      May 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • FlotsamJetsam

      I agree if the church's insist on having such a strong political voice they should lose their non-profit exemption.

      May 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.