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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. Josh Routh

    Obama says he's a Christian. Evidently, he either doesn't read his bible or is skipping all the parts he doesn't like!! What a sad day for our country, the president of the United States now not only condones immorality, but supports it!!

    May 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Observer

      Josh,

      "skipping all the parts he doesn't like!!"

      That would just make him a TYPICAL Christian. That's how you ignor the Bible's support of slavery and discrimination against the handicapped.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Ting

      But it's okay for you to skip the parts you don't like? Nice.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      I would say you are the one who hasn't read the buybull and you are the one who is immoral. I know plenty of christians who support gay marriage. Your bigotry is not the problem of those deserving to be treated equally. Science has stated that being gay is natural and that trumps your buybull.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • PunchInTheFace

      It's amazing how Josh Routh himself is unaware of Christ's teachings and message, and yet has the hypocritic gall to condemn the ignorance of others.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "he either doesn't read his bible or is skipping all the parts he doesn't like!! "

      Just like Christians skip over the real truth today about gays that is being shown by experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      May 9, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Rebel4Christ

      Yeah Josh and apparently I'm a big got for not supporting sin.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • jody

      josh really, sounds lke a lot of your kind

      May 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Snow

      Do you support divorce josh? how about killing adulterers? Did you ever read astrologies/horoscopes? how about jacking off or complaining about anythnig..

      if you did any of the above, you are guilty of EXACTLY what you accuse obama of. How come you get to skip over the stuff you do not like then?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • ReligionLOL

      haha that defines a typical christian ignoring 49 of 50 lines and always quoting that 1 line that seems to make sense if you look really deep into it

      May 10, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  2. DPGW

    A VOTE FOR OBAMA IS A VOTE AGAINST JESUS. Can't be christian and vote for Obama anymore...that's awesome.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • PunchInTheFace

      Jesus is not running for President of the United States. Try to keep up.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Ting

      Because we all know that Jesus hated gays. That's the kind of guy Jesus was.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Observer

      Is Jesus on the ballot?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  3. Sarah

    You say he supports gay marriage, but what do you mean along the lines of supporting it? Does he mean he does not see a problem with it or does he mean they should have the right to choose even though it may be wrong on some standards they're the ones making the choice and it is not our place to judge.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      How is it wrong on some standards?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      The only standards where being gay is deemed wrong is religious standards.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  4. sybaris

    I still need to know when heterose.xuals choose to be heterose.xual dammit!

    May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Wake-up! It is not a choice, moron!

      May 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Voice: Please turn up your sarcasm detector.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Eric G

      Gotcha! Thanks! It's the passion that kicks in.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  5. Mitch

    Thanks Pres. Obama, now make it legal.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  6. Dave

    Why not let the states decide the issue, instead of forxing this down our throats like Obama care.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Go forx youself!

      May 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • nonconformist

      Forcing it down your throat? Don't you wish!

      May 9, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Jesse

      Why not let individuals decide the matter, instead of having states forx it down our throats?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Observer

      Yep. That worked great for blacks.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Gloria

      If you listen to, or read Obama's statement, he actually said that the States should decide on Gay Marriage. He said that he "personally" had come to support Gay marriage. He's not forcing anything down anyone's throats.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • PunchInTheFace

      Hahaha! Dave likes things rammed down his throat. He fantasizes about Obama "Care" all day long.....

      May 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  7. steven harnack

    So Perkins and Reed think that the President gave Romney "a huge gift"? What he did was hang a huge millstone around Romney's neck. Of course he couldn't have done it without Mitt's cooperation. What it is is a glaring example of just how little regard they really have for for real freedom and equality.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  8. Al

    We have a president that supports gay marriage and Pat Robertson supports the legalization of marijuana. I can't believe it.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Elliot

      If Obama came out and said that marijuana should be legalized, he would seal the deal for me...come on Mr. President.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Elliot

      I know...right?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Better yet, he needs to come out as an Atheist...really p!ss off the fundiots.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      That's just awesome Truth...a gay friendly, pot smoking atheist president. The Fundiots heads would explode.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  9. derbarkasmann

    One more argument for dividing the country. Let the social bigots and religious conservatives have part of it. Maybe revisit the conclusion of the Civil War. Anything to get them as far out of my life as possible.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  10. gingersnap

    Mitt would make a decent candidate, but he is at the mercy of the fundamentalist right. A shame.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • JayNYC

      Which is exactly why he should come out in support of gay marriage now. He's too intelligent to actually be against it. Could you just imagine what the reactionaries would do? Their heads would spin. They'd have no one to vote for!

      May 10, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  11. solex

    Since when is hatred a Christian value?

    May 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • PunchInTheFace

      Since forever. Where have you been?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Me II

      They are not really known for there love of gays, witches, pagans, adulterers, Jews, or even unbelievers ("Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?" )

      May 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Let us not forget the "punch the kid with the limp wrist" virtue!

      May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  12. scallions1

    What a great day! Our president has set a historical precedent against discrimination. I've been waiting for this announcement and he didn't disappoint. My support this year will be much stronger now.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Jim

      Discrimination???? This is not an equal right issue you twit. This is about nature which has existed for the human race in the past 10,000 years. MARRIAGE SHOULD ONLY BE BETWEEN A MAN AND WOMAN.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • News Flash

      wrong

      May 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Jim

      Says you. Whn you are lying on your death bed and see the gates of everlasting hell before, you will finbally understand

      May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Me II

      HA HA HA HA HA HA
      "This is about nature which has existed for the human race in the past 10,000 years. "

      "10,000 years"
      Oh that's a good one. ha ha

      May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "This is not an equal right issue you twit"

      Actually it is since gay couples are being denied many basic civil rights.

      The rights they are being denied are:

      Tax Benefits
      -–Filing joint income tax returns with the IRS and state taxing authorities.
      -–Creating a "family partnership" under federal tax laws, which allows you to divide business income among family members.

      Estate Planning Benefits
      -–Inheriting a share of your spouse's estate.
      -–Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse.
      -–Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.
      -–Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse – that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse's behalf.

      Government Benefits
      -–Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses.
      -–Receiving veterans' and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans.
      -–Receiving public as-sistance benefits.
      -–Employment Benefits
      -–Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse's employer.
      -–Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.
      -–Receiving wages, workers' compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.
      -–Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse's close relatives dies.

      Medical Benefits
      -–Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.
      -–Making medical decisions for your spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment.

      Death Benefits
      -–Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.
      -–Making burial or other final arrangements.

      Family Benefits
      -–Filing for stepparent or joint adoption.
      -–Applying for joint foster care rights.
      -–Receiving equitable division of property if you divorce.
      -–Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce.

      Housing Benefits
      -–Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only."
      -–Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse.

      Consumer Benefits
      -–Receiving family rates for health, homeowners', auto, and other types of insurance.
      -–Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.
      -–Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.
      -–Other Legal Benefits and Protections
      -–Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy).
      -–Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states).
      -–Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can't force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage.
      -–Receiving crime victims' recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime.
      -–Obtaining immigration and residency benefits for noncitizen spouse.
      -–Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @Jim

      According to your own religion, your pride and hate will damn you just as fully as non-belief will. Congrats, if there is a hell, we'll probably see you there.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Snow

      "Congrats, if there is a hell, we'll probably see you there." Best quote I read today..

      Welcome to the darkside, Jim.. here be cookies..

      May 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  13. briawinde

    I am proud of the president for speaking out.! A healthy and caring society does protect all of its citizens. We have let right wing fundamentalist extremists oppress the majority because they always make sure to vote when it is a matter of interjecting religion into politics. It is even more imperative now that middle of the road citizens (christian or not), get out and vote. Hopefully the recent vote in North Carolina, along with the extremist views of right wing will be a wake up call to the vast majority in the USA.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  14. Brad Walsh

    My biological sister and I are in love with each other. We want to marry. If gay marriage will be legal then marriage between brother and sister should be legal too She has her tubes tied so no problem as far as deformed children are concerned. Just as gay proponents say: IT IS OUR EQUAL RIGHT. LOVE IS LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • skarphace

      You must be Teapublican.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Joe

      Weak. Really, weak.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Darw1n

      Nobody's attacking your right to be a friggin id 10 t.... and I think it's great that you exercise that right so zealously.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Brad Walsh

      It is not weak. LOVE IS LOVE!!!! You should marry with who you love!

      May 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Moody

      Are you really that stupid?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Well Brad, then you need to stop whining about it here and do what the gay folks did.

      Get off your fat ăss and do the freaking work.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • scallions1

      Obviously a troll.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • PunchInTheFace

      Haven't you toothless Teapublican yokels been marrying each other regardless? Only successive generations of in-breeding could possibly create the Tea Party. Why don't you go get your hound dog and your sister-wife and go hunt possum while the adults talk?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Elliot

      HEY! Why do you have to go and bash hound dogs? You probably own a pet ferret or something.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • steven harnack

      Go for it! If you can guarantee that no children will suffer because of it then go right ahead. And if you feel strongly about it then work at getting the law changed. If you were expecting outrage and horror, too bad.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  15. Joe

    Wow, Obama is playing this election like a master chess player. Can't wait to find out next what he has up his sleeve....

    May 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  16. Joe

    "But many conservatives chafed at the idea that the president's personal views would not affect public policy."

    Oh so that's not OK, but when Republican Senators sign bills banning gay marriage, or banning abortions, based on the Bible, that is? That's not an example of personal views affecting public policy? Hypocritical conservatives crack me up.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  17. solex

    If you don't liek Gay marriage don't have one.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • solex

      *like

      May 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  18. Eddy

    A good society is gauged by how well it protect minority culture and individuals vulnerable because of the way they choose to conduct their business; Didn't they say America is a free society where all rights are crystallized and enjoyed by all irrespective of ones race, culture or belief? This president has damn courage and is not a populist. If he could give such an opinion in the middle of a close election is a test case for his honesty and strength of character. Bravo Mr. President. Here in Kenya we love u and wish you visit soon......

    May 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  19. Smeagel4T

    There are plenty of mainstream Christian churches that are willing to perform these marriages. Why should anyone stand by and allow a group of right wing fundamentalist extremists oppress the religious freedoms of others?

    May 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Darw1n

      Good question.... religious extremists attacking religious freedom?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  20. Colin Gallagher

    I am deeply saddended by Cardinal Dolan's statement, especially as religious leaders should not interject themselves into political campaigns while continuing to enjoy tax-exempt status. I also pray that the Catholic Church will some day drop its obsession with denying rights to gay and lesbians & come clean about how it has sheltered child abusers within its ranks across the world.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • hmm

      The lawyers need to figure out how to sue the Vatican and investigate any priest still functioning who is anyway associated with child abuse or covering up child abuse or both.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Elliot

      And they need to admit that most priest became priest becuase they are gay in the first place.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Lib

      as a catholic, I wholeheartedly agree. It's amazing how people claim to be Chritians and are the first to judge. Isn't there something in the Bible about judging one another. Also the catholic church should be the LAST to pass judgement or make any comment regarding the president's comment. As for the so called Christian conservatives and GOP, the Bible also says to love thy brother and to take care of those who are with little The GOP are a bunch of hypocrits and are the last to pass judgement against anyone especially after all they have said and done against this president

      May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
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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.