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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. a disgrace

    obama figures since these people are gay they are stupid to! offer what they want get the vote then dump them! obama quietly tell religious leaders not to worry!

    May 10, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Sanary

      Let's all take a minute to remember that Romney's "religion" supports bigamy – MULTIPLE marriage, which in practice really means for MEN.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  2. Gooze

    Very few conservatives that I know actually believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. They believe it is between one man and one woman AT A TIME. Most are quite tolerant of divorce and remarriage. If they REALLY wanted to protect marriage, they'd outlaw divorce.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  3. Gary

    Equal protection under the law. Freedom of and from religion. When the rights of the minority are determined by a vote of the majority nobody has any rights.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  4. myweightinwords

    Having watched the interview, I was touched by Obama's apparent thought process, by the way in which he came to this conclusion. It seems that the change of heart is genuine, and while I agree that there is some political motivation involved in stating this now, in this way, he had to know that it contained a fair amount of political risk as well.

    And really, how sad is that? How sad is it that taking a stand for equality for all American citizens can be considered a risky move politically?

    Equality is an American value. At least, I always thought that it was.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  5. ALLAMERICAN

    President Obama is a PR Machine. He tested the waters with Biden going first and waited few days to see the reaction. He than came out confirming. I wonder what he thinks about his daughters becoming LGBT or joining that group now. What about Polygamy, why not not make Polygamy legal, which is already legal in many countries. Presdient Obama's actions are well calculated like when he hired the Jobs Chief the GE guy Jeff Immelt for Jobs creation, even though Immelt was laying of thousands of his workforce. This guy has more visa workers than any American corporation out there. Presdient Obama needed access Ohio GE factory workers therefore he hired this guy. No wonder we are nowhere with unemployment. President Obama failed this country and desperate for your vote.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • mikk2781

      There is actually nothing illegal about polygamy so long as all parties consent. The only thing illegal is trying to have multiple legal marriage contracts recognized by the state. As long as one man is married to one woman legally, their relationships outside of that is their own business.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • No Religion

      Obama failed this country? Oh my what a short memory we have. I guess you forgot it took Bush 8 years to put us into this mess. Obama spent the first two years in office working to just keep this country's head above water. In the last two years he has managed to add jobs every month, while seeing an upswing in the housing and stock market......in only 2 years, in case you missed that part!!!! Every politician plays politics....but when it comes to dirty politics the republicans do it best!

      May 10, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • mb2010a

      Can you be be anymore stupid...?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Sanary

      You mention polygamy. Good for you. I don;t agree with much more of what you said, BUT glad you mentioned polygamy – the practice supported by Romney's "religion". (Of course, in actual practice, it really mean polygamy for MEN only.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      President Obama has failed this country? Really? First and foremost, he inherited an economic crisis, the worst since the Great Depression and he has passed legislation for a stilumus package which has stabilized the economy and returned 5 million Americans back to work! And while we know that the economy won't rebound fully overnight, the teapublicans have in congress have stepped in the way and done everything within their means to deliberately stall progress! When was the last time have you hear Mr. Boehner, Cantor or Ryan say to congress lets pass a jobs bill for the American people or unemployment extention to help unemployed and struggling Americans? Please get your facts straight!

      May 10, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • YeahRight

      "I wonder what he thinks about his daughters becoming LGBT or joining that group now."

      You can't just join the group, being gay isn't a choice. DUH!

      May 10, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  6. BunnyBunny

    It's NOT the governments job to regulate morality. Equal rights for all, should mean ALL. This is about 2 ADULTS who love and want to make a commitment to each other.

    Matthew 7:1: Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • DEB

      CHRISTIANS ARE NOT JUDGING GAY RELATIONSHIPS. THE WORD OF GOD SAYS IT IS AN ABOMINATION. YOU HATE THE SIN, NOT THE PERSON.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Deb
      The Bible says no such thing.
      Which verses to you think call gays an abomination?

      May 10, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  7. Colin

    I can very easily think of TEN reasons why gay marriage is wrong.

    01) Gay marriage will encourage straight people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make short people tall.

    02) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

    03) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

    04) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed. My parents in Texas ran screaming to the court to get a divorce, the minute they heard that a gay couple married in Vermont.

    05) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

    06) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets, because gays marrying will alter the fundamental $ex drive of others.

    07) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. We really want people who, in the 21st Century, still believe in sky-gods and evil ground-devils, based on 2,000 year old Palestinian mythology, setting social policy.

    08) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

    09) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms, just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

    10) It will lead to social disorder. I constantly hear of large groups of gays protesting against the rights of Christians to marry and committing acts of violence against Christians.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Think for yourself...if you are capable

      awesome! about sums it up...

      May 10, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • UK Socialist

      Thanks to some of the views expressed today I'm honestly not sure if this comment is serious.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • mandarax

      Brilliant. Well done.

      May 10, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  8. bigd

    ok tex71 get off your knees I know when I licked

    May 10, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  9. Satan

    Hey skinbags, the darklord here. With all the great work right wing conservative Christians are doing, I barely have to try anymore! Oppression of ga us, denying women civil rights, hate of non Christians....its great! Its like I wrote the bible myself ( wink wink). So keep it up Christians your hate fills me with joy.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Blobama loves the Cok

      wow, you really got us there...

      May 10, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Satan

      Spread your hate... I mean your "Christian love"....

      May 10, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  10. Lizzie

    demonstrated leadership? I would say he has demonstrated shrewd politics (as almost all politicians do regardless of party). He is after votes and is doing what he believes will win them for him. As far as gay marriage and religion, perhaps we would be better off to not to legally recognize "marriage" but instead civil unions. This would insure protected rights of all people. Those who believe marriage is a union between a man, a woman and God and has nothing to do with secular legalities could then validate their relationship in the eyes of God, in their church.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • momoya

      Why not just get rid of marriage.. Legal "unions" all around.. If you want to feel "married" in some sacred sense get married in a church and stick with it.. That's the fair way to solve this and still allow the religious nutters to feel as if g.a.y.s aren't married according to the doctrine of the church that married them.. Problem solved, yes?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • momoya

      Oh, and the same would go for g.a.ys.. They'd belong to a church that "married" them, so they'd feel married according to their religious faith, but would have the same legal union as any other legal union.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Lizzie

      Although I don't totally disagree with abolishing all unions being recognized by the government, something has to exist legally in order to receive tax breaks, insurance discounts, inheritance issues etc. If no union is recognized than an overhaul of our whole system would need to take place and that would only take us about 100 million years to accomplish.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  11. RAGNAR RULER

    THE LINES HAVE BEEN DRAWN:

    Religious insanity VS. Freedom
    Bigots VS. Free thinkers
    Conservatives VS Progressives
    Old VS Young
    Hate VS Love
    The Past VS The future.

    WHO WILL WIN?

    May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • mandarax

      Love wins.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • James Kimble

      God wins. Like it or not, He will judge us, not the other way around.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • No Religion

      @James Kimble.......Not everyone believes in your "god." And contrary to popular belief among religious freaks like yourself, "god" doesn't dictate public policy.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • mandarax

      The only evidence I've seen for judgment comes from God's followers. As far as any evidence goes, the rest is just stories.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • BRC

      @James Kimble,
      Another way to look at it. there is a god, and that being (for rasons we will never know) does judge humans when they die. Do you really think a being that is that far beyond our comprehension would worry abou the petty issues that religions drag on about? I don't, I think a being like that would judge how you lived your life based on merrit, did you do good, or did you do ill. That is all.

      If Christianity is right, then I look forward to calling that Judge a tyrant and informing him that he can eat me, I know I lead a good life.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  12. Nathan

    I am disappointed that CNN only chose to discuss the reaction of "religious conservatives". Why is there not also an article with active dialogue about the rest of the Christians in the USA, many of whom are supportive of Gay Marriage? Why not discuss their reactions of happiness, pleasure, relief and joy at this announcement?

    May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • DancingInPDX

      I really like this question you pose. Simple answer is because media makes money off of contraversy, and as an unfortunate side effect casts many of us in a few stereotypical extremist buckets.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • mandarax

      In my opinion, moderate Christians are too quiet. By not standing up and speaking out against fundamentalism, they allow the fundamentalists to represent them as well.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  13. Duwayne Anderson

    Who cares what religious leaders think?

    May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  14. GentleGoodNight

    Oh Obama. You have ZERO track record to run on so you create divisive culture war instead?

    Honestly, THIS IS NOT THE ISSUE! This is a move worthy of a magician as our dollar continues to be debased and millions of jobs continued to be shipped overseas. We are teetering on the edge of a third economic bubble and unemployment is still at a record high. But gay marriage (i.e., which is entirely a state issue) is brought to the focus of the Federal election?

    What a crock.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • UK Socialist

      And yet the American economy is seeing terrific growth, while the conservative run governments of Europe are getting voted out of power due to their conservative measures.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Me

      UK, PLEASE tell us where the economy is growin nicely? No one here seems to be able to see it, including myself.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  15. ALLAMERICAN

    What about Polygamy ? Why not make Polygamy legal as well just as many countries do.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • momoya

      It depends on the definition of marriage.. The bible advocates marriages with more than one wife, and history tells us that's a pretty common arrangement.. If marriage is defined by history and "holy' texts it would have to include polygamy, but if government defines it as two people, then that's the definition they provide laws and benefits for.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Bob

      I agree, that should be legal as well. Consenting adults should have the freedom to do whatever they choose as long as it doesn't hurt others.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • BRC

      Because there are massive contractual issues that come as the fallout of a divorce from a polygamous marriage. Property, dividing wealth, child custody; until that leagal nightmare is sorted and a solid foundation is in place it's not a good idea.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Plural marriages are biblical...so the Judeo-Christian folks shouldn't have a problem with it. IF what they want is for the bible to define marriage.

      In actuality, provided all involved are consenting adults, what does it matter how many people are married together? Sure, there would be a need to look at some legal issues like taxation and insurances and that sort of thing, but ultimately, if all involved were happy, what would be wrong with it?

      I happen to know a poly family. Five adults, ten kids between them. Amazing group of people. Professional working adults, well rounded, polite, hard working kids. It's hard work, to be sure, but it works for them.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      America's laws against polygamy, known as the Morrill laws, date back to the mid 1800's and were basically enacted to keep Mormons in check – Utah's application for statehood were all denied until Brigham Young died and the LDS grudgingly rejected polygamy as policy.

      May 10, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  16. Tex71

    Normal people mostly wish religious conservatives would just move out into the middle of the desert and do their weird stuff all by themselves.
    Oh wait, they did that – and now one of them is back and running for president 😦

    May 10, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  17. barrclan

    So President Obama supports gay marriage for purely political reasons...dosen't change one bit what GOD has told us about it...marriage is between a man and a woman! President Obama will have his day, just as all of us to stand before GOD and answer for our decisions on this earth. GOD have mercy on all of us.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Talking Snake

      "God" would have to exist to tell us anything.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • YeahRight

      ".dosen't change one bit what GOD has told us about it"

      That's why there are now thousands of churches that have gone on record stating that being gay as we know and understand it today is NOT a sin. It's why there are gay clergy now. It's why some pastors have gone so far as to write apology letters to the gay community for fueling the hatred and bigotry towards this group.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • sally

      Marriage has existed for tens of thousands of years before Christianity. How do you figure Christians get to claim it as their own?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Madtown

      No doubt Obama is a politician, but where exactly has God "told us" anything?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • boocat

      Hearing voices again? "God" has said nothing on this issue or any other.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • tek

      People like you are exactly the reason I no longer belong to any religion.

      May 10, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  18. LH20

    It is interesting that there is so much controversy over this marriage issue when some religions do not allow women ministers due to religious/biblical beliefs but they don't advocate bans on that. I mean, which is fundamentally more important: invalid marriages between individuals or invalid ministers organizing worship to God?

    May 10, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  19. bigd

    what would obammy think if his daughter brought home another female and introduced her as her new love intrest

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

      ummm... I think he'd think, "Hello, how are you?'

      May 10, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Tex71

      What would bigd think if his single brain cell brought home another brain cell and introduced an original idea?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Ken

      I think he would be a real Christian and judge not.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Madtown

      bigd
      what would obammy think
      -----
      He'd think the opposite of what you'd think.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • G

      lmao that was hilarious Tex71

      May 10, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • boocat

      Tex71 – excellent response!!!!!

      May 10, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • mandarax

      Whenever I hear anyone use the term "obammy" it drives home the fact that their real problem is that he is black. "Obammy" doesn't make sense as a nickname – it doesn't rhyme, it doesn't otherwise sound like Obama, and he has no connection to Alabama. It does however clearly connect the name to "mammy" and "sambo", two traditional racial stereotypes. Your true colors are showing, bigd.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  20. spas2kl

    Anyone that votes for a president on this is an idiot.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:32 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.