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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. mac101

    I'm glad Obama finally opened his mouth, but honestly, folks, this changes nothing. The Evangelicals were always going to vote for Romney as the lesser of two evils, the liberals were always going to vote for Obama in spite of their grumblings, and the undecideds and independents will focus on what they always focus on:

    IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  2. matrix0900

    Why would Obama care if he riles right wing religious fanatics, they are not going to vote for him anyway.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • momoya

      A point lost on religious simpletons who think everyone cares what they do and don't approve of.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • sue

      wrong. The people against gay marriage are more energized than those for it. The battleground states have just turned a deep red. Obama has just lost the election :))))))))

      May 9, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • momoya

      Sue, why will you vote for a heretic who your god will send to h.e.ll rather than vote for a fellow brother in the lord?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  3. FluffyBunny

    After reading these bleating posts from the pathologically religious, I suddenly remembered my Milton. "It's better to rule in hell, than serve in heaven." I can't tell you how nice it is going to be to have all you nattering nabobs up there "kneeling before the throne of God" instead of being down here with all the cool kids, drinking margaritas and raising hell in, well... hell. 😀

    May 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  4. momoya

    Lemme guess.. Conservative christians are still voting for a cult member who their god won't grant eternal life rather than their "brother" and fellow workman for Christ?. That about right?

    May 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Mac

      Intolerance will always embrace intolerance. At least that's what Romney's banking on to win. His theme song should be Culture Club's Karma Chameleon–not only does it perfectly describe Romney's willingness to change his stand and say whatever is necessary to be get elected (he previously was very progressive on gay issues), but it's also filled with irony.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  5. dave

    cool! Hiopefully Obama will support brother-sister,father-daughter marriages also. ITS ALL ABOUT LOVE!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      What are you babbling about?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Dave

      That would make a good song.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • dave

      babaling about what? What is your rationale for supporting gay marriage and not brother-sister marriage if she gets her tubes tied? Its a human right issue, isn't it???

      May 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Shove your religious rules up your ass

      What an asinine thing to say.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • MJ

      ...You do know that if you trace ancestry back that incest was very common right? Have you even looked that the royal family? I bet you didn't know if you trace your OWN history back that likely way way back that your family tree has some intermingled branches......they didn't have the internet or I donno..cars way back when in villages.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • momoya

      dave, brothers and sisters and family members can marry now, provided they're not of the same s3x.. Why should you or I care?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Brother-sister mutual relationships are rare, and is not an issue of biology, more an issue of psychology. Hom.ose.xuality is not a choice, as is merely a biological issue, and should not be discrimanted against. What is your reasoning against gay-marriage?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Observer

      Dave,

      So you can't tell the differences? Why not stay on topic? It's always fun to pretend it's something worse.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Harry

      You're depraved!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  6. Dave

    Advice for those seaking the right of marriage, speaking from a male point of view in a traditional marriage. Carefull what you wish for. The lawyers will have a profitable future when those unions fall apart. The big question is who gets screwed when it does fall apart, in a traditional marriage it is more often then not the guy.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Alan

      So be it

      May 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Dani3l

      Perhaps having to fight for the right to marry, we are prepared to take our vows and commitment more seriously. We won't know until we have won recognition of our human rights.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • momoya

      Dave, I appreciate your words of caution; really, the whole inst.itution of marriage needs to disappear so that people can legally bind themselves to s3xual partners as they wish.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Dave

      Momomay, bingo. The right want the gov out of our lives, so get out of or lives. And stop lawyers being able to prey on the suffering of a relationship that has ended. I am not gay and have no idea of the struggles, I have never cared which particular preference a person has unless it has to with kids. I just don't get the energy spent on the right to marry, live together and build a life, who cares what a church says.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  7. Dani3l

    Mister Gilhoff, belief does not solely mean religious conservatism. Please give equal coverage to religious progressives who support this decision as representing Christ's message of love for our neighbors. I am tired of seeing Jesus associated with discrimination and hate.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • counterww

      You need to read your Bible more carefully, it is obvious that God does not condone this lifestyle.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Alan

      Does the bible condone hate in the name of God?!

      May 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  8. Alan

    If elections were held on a Saturday and/or everyone over the age of 18 was required to vote, there would be no Republican north of the Mason-Dixon and west of Texas

    May 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Joe

    The Catholics should be praying for Obama and the Justice Dept. not hauling their ass to jail for the hide and seek they do with their pedo priests and tax free money.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  10. Jay G

    Who cares if religious conservatives are annoyed? Just like I never care when extreme liberals are annoyed. This country needs to just start ignoring the special interests on both sides. I tend to be more conservative, especially in fiscal and international policy, but I don't have anything against gay marriage because I'm not blinded (or brainwashed to believe a certain way) by religion. Religion can do good.. but it also has done more evil in the history of the world than any other sort of dogma.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Alan

      Well said!:)

      May 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  11. Jim

    Looks like God momentarily emptied all the demons from hell and are posting here. Those who are not in hell and are posting here supporting gay marriage, then you soon will be there. Life is short. When you are lying on your death bed looking at the gates of hell, then maybe you will repent supporting gay marriages.....

    May 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • sam

      Funniest post of the day, hands down.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Drew

      All the demons in heaven. All of them. Every single one on religion.blogs.cnn.com right now commenting. That's what demons do when we leave hell, btw, we don't have internet there.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Eeesh

      Agreed, this post is hilarious. Satan was like, hey! gay marriage for everyone! now go my demons! rise from hell and start posing on internet sites to support obamas stance!

      #Winning

      May 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Al

      Maybe someday you will read a book and learn something. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Jay G

      That Jim guy sure sounds like a hoot to hang out with. Jim, the good thing is you won't regret wasting so much time being shackled by religious beliefs when you're dead because you won't be aware...

      May 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • FluffyBunny

      He's dead, Jim. But he supports gay marriage.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • MJ

      I think a hell with pretty rainbows and unicorns and magical beings might not be a bad place. Bet it will be better decorated than the "pearly gates".

      May 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Jay G

      So long as they have golf in hell, I'm there. Well, so long every course doesn't have 10 foot wide fairways, thousands of bunkers, and lakes on every hole. Then it might, in fact, be hell.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Shove your religious rules up your ass

      Everyone knows Satan wrote the bible. Fact.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Constanwood

      WOW! It's amazing how all those oppose to gay marriage can only bring up religion as their bases. But it's bloody hilarious to know that there are people out there such as yourself who lack common-sense enough to tell the difference between cult-fiction and reality.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bryan

      This nation leads the free but it is not based on this confused individual we the american people have tolerence but we have principle!!!! the globe turns to us for guidance and this is not it!!!

      May 9, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Harry

      Maybe those "death panels" should decide to pull the plug on Jim because it seems he is in a persistant vegetative state!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  12. Dave

    Live and let live. Unless you are so insecure that you have to hate everyone who is not just like you

    May 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  13. p

    The right is all geeked up. They think it's a gift and that they've won the eliction now.
    They are in for a surprise.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Jay G

      You're betraying your ignorance and political bias. It's people like you that have created this massive rift in politics and prevent anything from getting done with folks "on the other side of the aisle." We aren't enemies.

      Oh, and the "right" consists of a LOT more than religious conservatives. I, for one, am not a religious conservative but am still generally found on the "right" side of things (though not on the gay marriage issue – people should have the right to be with whomever they choose!).

      May 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  14. Rick

    79% of the USA population is Christian.

    Marriage is for a man and a women to unite. One purpose of uniting is to have children and then spend the next 20 or 30 years bringing them up.

    I have very. Close male friends who have paired up and are in love with each other. It's a great pleasure to see the huge love they have for each other.

    Their relationship is similar to marriage but needs a different "word" to describe it because unlike marriage, there will be no children.

    You can give it another name but marriage is reserved for the child baring relationship.

    In spite of all this chattermi know many "married" couples who have zero children by choice. Oh no!!!! We need another word. It exhausts me...........

    May 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • MJ

      For that matter, marriage as a "christian" needs a different word. Call everything a Legal Union and let religions call it whatever they want, but keep it out of the laws and politics.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Joe

      Yeah, and 50% of us don't go to church for this reason.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Eeesh

      Give me a break, what about infertile couples? Your entire argument breaks down with that, not to mention gay couples can have children, it's called in vitro insemination, or adoption or using a surrogate. If marriage was simply the way you laid it out then gay people wouldn't be the only ones excluded.

      Please pull your head out of your as.s

      May 9, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • theoldfool1950

      Some of those Christians dont take their faith all that serious. You might be surprised at how many. And some of those Christians are independent souls who are fans of Obama. Some of those Christians are Latino and I cannot imagine there are too many Latinos that can get down with Romney. Some of those Christians are gay, and any of those folks who are on the fence better look long and hard at what your party is saying to you. Would Jesus vote for a man who puts his dog on the roof of the car? Obama will never get the vote of those who let the church think for them. He didnt get it in 2008 and he wont get it in '12. I would say to you who are still living in the (early) 20th century, get over it. Move on.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Michael

      Should infertile couples have it called something other than marriage since children won't be forthcoming as well?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Primewonk

      "79% of the USA population is Christian."

      Funny. When it comes to matters where "size" matters, you nutters lump everyone together. But when the theology hits the road, you nutters jump all over yourselves trying to claim that only your little sect/cult worships the right way.

      "Marriage is for a man and a women to unite. One purpose of uniting is to have children and then spend the next 20 or 30 years bringing them up."

      Marriage existed long before your god (who was cobbled together from other minor deities worshiped by tribes in the area) crawled onto the scene 6000 years ago. And for the love of god – post the freaking citations to state laws showing that marriage is a requirement for procreation and that procreation is a requirement for marriage.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bryan

      It is a partnership pretty simple not a marriage

      May 9, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  15. Casey

    So idiots, oh I mean social conservatives, are against Obama. Big whooop. He has finally done something right, but not courageous.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • Jim

      When you are lying on your deathbed about to be escorted to the gates of the hell, then you will remember my words. May God have mercy on your soul! for your support of gay marriage which goes against everything in law of nature.!

      May 9, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Jay G

      Jim, I'm surprised they allow computers at your compound?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Bryan

      good thing you only represent 5 percent of the rest of the world

      May 9, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  16. Travis

    I was getting annoyed with you Obama. You do really have a weak spine sometimes... but good on you for taking the risky political move to do the right thing. Best thing I have heard from you all year.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  17. Voice of Reason

    Who do you think could kick the other's butt, Obama or Romney?

    May 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  18. PPJr

    Good for him. Now the lines are clearly drawn, and you can decide which side you're at.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  19. MJ

    “Somebody some day will say this is illegal. By then be sure the orgs [Scientology organizations] say what is legal or not.”
    – L. Ron Hubbard, Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, 4 January 1966, “LRH Relationship to Orgs”

    May 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  20. Momof4

    This change in position by Obama has just convinced a lot of Evangelicals, who maybe weren't so excited about Romney, to get out and vote against Obama.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Observer

      They probably weren't going to vote for his anyway.

      It has invigorated Obama's base as seen in many comments here.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • momoya

      Good.. Who wants shallow voters who prefer bigotry to equality?!?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • sam

      Was there ever a single evangelical who would have voted for him anyway? I doubt it.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • theoldfool1950

      No chance. He never had their vote. He knows he will not get them. Independents will like that he took a stand. It's the maybes he needs, and that is who he works to please. If he gets a fair share of the maybes then, come November, the number stays at 44.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • p

      Yeah. The evangelicals are voting Mormon this year!!!! lololol
      So much for their phony convictions.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Ned

      Religious people love to play god with other people's lives, including their own children, who some will beat to death, scorn, and torture, including brainwashing, just like they think their personal interpretation "tells" them to do, instead of following the laws of this country and protecting their children.
      Evangelicals were already supporting Romney and Santorum and Gingrich and Palin and a half-dozen other political JOKES for President.
      As far as Evangelicals go, they have already destroyed ANY credibility they might have had in this country.
      So, no, I don't think anyone was counting on their votes in the first place, "Momof4". Take your worthless vote and remain where you always were: on the Shame pedestal for being totally unprincipled and unethical as well as delusional.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • Mac

      The only people who get riled up about this are the right wing hacks and hate groups who make an industry out of small-mindedness and intolerance, and the closet cases who use this issue as a shield to hide their own tendencies. Why would the average American care what two other adults do that has no effect whatsoever on them?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:51 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.