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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)
  1. The Truth

    Have anyone seen this?

    http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/05/09/youtuber-alleges-nasa-cover-up-spaceship-spotted-near-sun/?intcmp=features

    The LDS Church and the Vatican have been working to cover up alien life discoveries for decades because they know that if people find out the whole planet will go into panic mode so they have been colluding with the government to lock this information up in vaults underneath the Vatican!! People you need to WAKE UP because there's a lot happening that you don't know about because they don't want you to know.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      Knock Knock

      May 10, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • saganhill

      You are a grade "A" USDA choice 1di0t.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • CosmicC

      Tired of hearing crazy voices? Stop listening to Fox News.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  2. Atomico

    @saganhill: Those were not my words.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • saganhill

      Then put them in quotes. "David Barton tells the truth" We all know that is false about David Barton.

      Then people know you are quoting rather than thinking they are your words.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  3. Honey Badger Dont Care

    Ezekiel 23:19-21

    19 Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prost itute in Egypt. 20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. 21 So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      Is it just that you don't believe in the existence of Hell, or you think changing the text won't send you there?

      May 10, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • AthensGuy

      dang, reading the bi ble is making me h o t... be back in 10, folks, cant type now

      May 10, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  4. SOAPY32

    NO TALIBAN muslims are unfarily maligned in regards to issues regarrding homosexuals most muslims understand the threat posed by homosexual members of the united states military inside their home country numerous cases reported by united nations medical teams of hiv or teretiary pnuemonia WORST LINGERING DEATH being introduced into local water supplies by homosexual soldiers FOR THE SOLE REASON OF MAKING WOMAN AND CHILDREN AND MEN SICK AND WEAKLY FOR EASY PREY for these soldiers to unleash toxic hateful urges upon muslims fight back with what they can WHO WOULD BLAME THEM WHEN LIVING IN FEAR OF WRATH OF GOD HOLY SPIRIT DARKNESS TOXIC HATE FILLED SOLDIERS ATTACK THEIR CHILDREN??? it hurts my heart when i see usa muslims targetted unfairly they have much more understanding of nature of god holy spirit than all usa christian darkness heart of poison living in dark ages lied to by CATHOLOIC NEST OF VIPERS SODOMITE ANTICHRIST POPE

    May 10, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • chipndale

      You have a poisoned mind Mr. Phelps.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      Islam has a much dimmer view of the subject. That's why any Gay's in Muslim countries are still in the closet. They'd lose their heads if they came out. Christianity preaches Love and Forgiveness, not Hate. That comes from the other guy, who you either work for or don't believe in either. Back to School, troll.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • TDALLAS

      Your comment is awesome !

      Your thoughts encompass the essence of ignorance, stupidity, self righteousness, and hatred.

      Also before your next comment, please learn to punctuate.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  5. Tex71

    Fifty years ago, it would have been equally unthinkable to ordain a woman as a priest or pastor in any mainstream religious tradition. Some of them have evolved; some continue to fight the tide. In the end, this is what determines the survival of a religion (or anything else for that matter): its ability to adapt, to evolve, to respond to a changing environment. Anything that chooses to resist change to the death will eventually do just that.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      It is still unthinkable to ordain a woman as a Priest. Pope John Paul II was quite clear on the subject. As for survival, we've been around for 2000+ years and still believe in the same things. Society should conform to the Church, the Church does not conform to Society and never has.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • CosmicC

      @SouthernCelt – the church's desire to conform society to it is fine in a catholic country. This is a secular country and you cannot force your beliefs on others. Feel free to hold them yourself. This is not a theocracy (at least not yet).

      May 10, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  6. Thomas

    Civil rights should not be a state by state decision. Otherwise, I'd imagine african americans still drinking in seperate fountains in the states of the south.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • SouthernCelt

      Let me guess, @Thomas is a Moderator and no one can reply to him. So much for Freedom of Speech.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  7. Honey Badger Dont Care

    Oh I've got a million of them, or at least as many as there are passages in the bible.

    “All right,” the Lord said. “You may bake your bread with cow dung instead of human dung.”
    –Ezekiel 4:12-15

    May 10, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  8. al

    Why is it when Obama changes his mind he's 'evolving', but when Romney does it's a 'flip-flop'? Just curious

    May 10, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      When did President Obama change his mind?

      May 10, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Dan

      Go back in time 8 years and check the precedent the conservatives set with John Kerry.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • AthensGuy

      Because Mittens does so on a weekly (if not daily) basis

      May 10, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  9. Atomico

    The above comment is a clone. You might notice the glitch in repeated words.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  10. Boyplease!!!

    Obama.... time for u to go!!

    May 10, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  11. Dl

    Reasons I own guns:
    – fend off home intruders
    – shoot Chinese paratroopers
    – overthrow Christian Jihadist evangelical Govt

    May 10, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • chipndale

      🙂

      May 10, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  12. Dan

    What they should do is simply downgrade all marriages in this country to civil unions. That way everyone can call themselves married, they all have the same rights and people can go back to sniping at each other instead of trying to change laws.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  13. Chip

    If churches want to sound off on politics, they need to pay taxes!

    May 10, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Sabina

      Amen!

      May 10, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • French Mermaid Nether Region

      *Sigh*

      And when churches pay taxes, they get a political voice. It's a shame that you are probably of legal voting age. People like you are why our POTUS is a giant pussy.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • jim

      They already have a political voice without paying taxes! Time to pay up.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  14. No Taliban

    The extremist faction of Christianity behaves as if they were Taliban. Exactly the same. Is this what we want in our country?

    May 10, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Steve

      Because we bomb government buildings, assasinate leaders and attack foriegn militaries occupying our land. Good observation.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Tex71

      Steve, if American religious nutjobs aren't "bomb[ing] government buildings, assasinat[ing] leaders and attack[ing] foriegn militaries" it is only because they don't control the government – but not for lack of trying! Refer to Pat Robertson's famous fatwa on a foreign leader, August 23, 2005. Many similar statements on public record if you have the time.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  15. SilverHair

    Typical WASP reaction.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  16. chipndale

    Soapy32.

    Thank you Rev Phelps. The bitterness in your vile heart is obvious. Like a cancer, unless treated the anger and vile mentality will eat you from the inside out. May you find peace one day and release this costic frame of mind. As usual, it probably stems from some childhood oppression. You remind me so much of my straight ultra religious ex con father who spent 13 years in a state pen after being found guilty of molesting two children, ages 5 and 7. After being released from prison, he had to advise me on how being gay was such a sin. You like him represent a double standard I do not wish to follow. As a father of a daughter happily married and secure, I am sure glad I did not take the path you or my father suggest. Farewell.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  17. Atomico

    Mr. Obama needs to go.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • saganhill

      Why, because he does the right thing?

      May 10, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Atomico

      @saganhill: So he thinks.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • momoya

      Wow, what stunning rationale; I may have been persuaded.. -.-

      May 10, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Atomico

      The reason reason if you must know.... is because he's black.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Atomico

      Note: The above comment is a clone. You might notice the glitch in repeated words.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • saganhill

      Whats his skin color have to do with anything?

      May 10, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Atomico

      @momoya: You may have been stunned.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Atomico

      @saganhill: Not my words.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Teabag Shredder

      Your right, GO! Obama, GO man GO. Keep going strong for the rights of people while evangelicals destroy the word of God.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Atomico

      @Teabag Shredder: And make people pay for his idealism and socialist policies?

      May 10, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • TDALLAS

      If you represent the average American voter, then he is doomed to defeat !

      However, I don't think the average American voter is bigoted, racist, or ignorant which are clearly your most outstanding credentials and traits.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • saganhill

      @atomico as opposed to the republicans lack of reality, delusional beliefs in myths, no plan for the future other than rhetorical religious dogma, misogyny, total lack of understanding any Scientific Theory, and I could write a whole 2-3 pages of this. What more do you want.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  18. codepwned

    STOP... LISTEN... UNDERSTAND... marriage is NOT under attack. The ability to go into a CIVIL UNION that is similar to marriage is. NOOONE is trying to redefine the definition of marriage. The government only see's marriages as civil unions anyway as it should.

    IF, and that's a big IF, LBG movement was trying to redefine marriage as defined by christianity, I would be on the supporters side but it's not. It's simple demanded equal rights as far as governmental recognition goes and all the benefits that come with it. It will NOT be referred to as married. It will NOT be considered a marriage but a CIVIL UNION.

    Now... with that understanding... if you are still against it, please reply to me and explain why.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • matkins4268

      MAN -– WOMAN ....... CREATE LIFE WOMAN .... WOMAN DEPEND ON LIFE
      marriage is between MAN and WOMAN

      May 10, 2012 at 8:44 am |
      • codepwned

        What does that have to do with loving someone? Marriage is a religiously founded term. We're talking allowing them to have civil unions. Try again.

        May 10, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • CosmicC

      Hmm, I know I replied to this. I see that someone replied to my post, but my post is gone. I didn't use any foul language, didn't attack anyone, didn't include anything that would be viewed as "bad", yet my post is gone while some racist is free to spew hatred.

      May 10, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  19. mikstov33

    turdknockers all...

    May 10, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • chipndale

      Whitney called from the dead, she wants her pipe back, lol

      May 10, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  20. Questions401

    Riled religious conservatives? I'd think they would also want to find out if Mitt Romney's wife has sisters and if any of those sisters live in any of his houses.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • TDALLAS

      Rather than making an intelligent contribution to the dialogue here, your inference of incest, bigamy or, whatever your warped mind is trying to say is totally offensive and uncalled for.

      Even though I am not a supporter of Gov. Romney, his faith and his family are off limits and not even remotely related to the conversation here.

      You should be ashamed ! ! !

      May 10, 2012 at 8:50 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.