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. taneadalpivo@hotmail.com

    I am really happy that finally America is evolving!!! Congratulations Obama.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Voice of Reason


      May 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • BobbaFett

      Glad your feelings are being catered to, you immature, intellectually void children.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Obama has qualified to be called pot head hindu sanatan filthy goon of hindu, dark ages, He is not the first, but first of un American and anti human value, secular, self centered hindu, ignorant.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Nothing but hindu gentile, immoral slaves of their hindu soul, filthy desire like animals, an insult to be called human.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      I wonder who taught Mohammed the dog to use a keyboard.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • MaryM

      tane, agreed

      May 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • matkins4268

      SATAN evolve also and was kicked out of heaven SO IT SHALL BE WITH POTUS he shall be kicked out of the white house

      May 10, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • luigim

      Right on! He is a very brave man.

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

    The sancti-ty of marriage has been upheld. Only heteros can continue to get 72-hour marriages performed at drive-thru churches by Elvis impersonators 24 hours a day.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • GodPot

      Don't forget the divorce rate of 1 in 2 they are so proud of, obviously shows how seriously they take their bible beliefs...

      May 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • BobbaFett

      @God Pot you filthy, disgusting fool. You mock straights' divorce rate but get as giddy as a loose cheerleader to get in line at the altar for the same. You and your kind will soon realize that marriage and love have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Patrick

      Just a Hunka, Hunka Burning Love
      Love Me Tender
      Can't Help Falling in Love
      Don't be Cruel
      Adam and Evil
      Easy Come, Easy Go
      How Can you Loose, what you never Had
      Since my baby left me...
      In the Getto

      May 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  3. Brational

    Just another area of agreement between the U.S, Religious Right Wing and the radical Muslims: anti-gay, anti-abortion, prayer in school, creationism, drill, drill, drill, guns in the streets (Yemen second to US in gun ownership), love conspiracy theories, subjugation of wife to husband, have as many children as possible, never compromise, capital punishment...you name it they are on the same page of the holy book.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      There is no American group more closely related to the taliban than the tea party.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • matkins4268

      IN GOD WE TRUST ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and yourself who do you trust

      May 10, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  4. AtheistSteve

    This is a very dangerous political position for the president to take that will stoke the flames of brimstone burning in the underpants of the religious fundies. I applaud his courage for standing up for what is right and treating all people equally. Hoorah Obama...

    May 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Ditto Brother Steve!

      May 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • matkins4268

      NOT REALLY HE IS TRYING NOT TO GET ELECTED ............................................. you chose JAIL or DEATH or get the hell out the left will seek his life as he live and the right seeks his a** in jail

      May 10, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • FLIndependent

      I agree and for those that say he did it for votes have got to be kidding. Too many narrow-minded people still among us.

      May 10, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  5. Smeagel4T

    Wall Street Mitt just announced that he was for gay marriage before President Obama, and President Obama was just following Wall Street Mitt's advice. Then Wall Street Mitt realized he shouldn't have said that so he's no claiming that gay marriages should have been allowed to go bankrupt. Finally in an attempt to find a safe non-position on the issue, he said that gay marriages should simply be outsourced to India or China.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Shawn in MD

      LOL! funny

      May 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • matkins4268


      May 10, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  6. sam

    'Religious conservatives' are always riled, what's the difference?

    May 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Smeagel4T

      True. How did anybody notice?

      May 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • sam

      Maybe they could retitle the article 'This Just In: Sky Is Blue, Water Is Wet'.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  7. happyfrenchman

    Does this mean the Catholic Bishops will not support him now? The real question is the black churches... those witch doctors are the worst thing that ever happened to U.S. Blacks in the last 50 years. This will get interesting but it was the right thing to do. I am glad he came out of the closet.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      I think you are right about the blacks, this should extremely interesting in a racial / religious sense. Will the take the race over their god? We'll see.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • happyfrenchman

      Or will they wake up and realize it was never their god to begin with.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Mike

      It means that the cardinals now have an issue to deflect the scandal with the catholic church.

      May 10, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  8. Smeagel4T

    Religious conservatives are riled. Ummm... and that matters why? Let's count how many religious conservative votes President Obama just lost. That would be... ummm... ya... ZERO.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  9. Lizzie

    First he was against, now he is for it, FLIP-FLOP or evolving?????????

    May 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Jeff

      If he's evolving, is it into something better or worse than before?

      May 9, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Suzie

      Long way to go to catch up to Flip Romney though.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • sam

      When was he against? And how many questions marks does it take to tell us?

      May 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Squidward

      Actually, in 2007 he was for marriage equality, then in 2008 as a candidate he was against it, now as the tides of public opinion shift he has once again decided he is for it again. It is indeed a flip flop flip, but thats better than Romneys record of being for or against anything the people he happens to be in the room at the time are for or against. Romney has about as much backbone as a squid, one thin sliver of clear plastic like cartilage that can bend into almost any position you want.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • WR

      Finally the president has proved the theory of evolution or actually devolution, man to apes.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • matkins4268

      SATAN EVOLVED AND WERE KICKED OUT OF HEAVEN .................... i believe he just follow his GOD

      May 10, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  10. BB

    But, if gays are allowed to marry it will totally destroy my relationship with my wife.....somehow....

    May 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • just sayin

      just sayin

      The Christian Taliban want to get inside the v a g in as of women and also the relationship between two adults..

      May 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  11. Key

    I don't applaud this at all, and I support gay marriage. This is cowardly on Obama's part. He's hedging his bets on this being a winning political move – nothing more. If he had made this statement one day BEFORE the NC amendment passed I would rain praise on him. Now it's just another in a long line of his cheap political stunts. I think the LBGT community should find this sad.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • just sayin

      The Christian Taliban want to get inside the v a g in as of women and also the relationship between two adults.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • just sayin

      oops posted wrong spot key

      May 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • J.W

      But since they voted against gay marriage and he comes out in support of it, he actually went against what the people voted for. So among these people it would not help him politically.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Observer

      It took more guts to announce that you were on the side that lost than to announce before.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • happyfrenchman

      I don't see it that way at all. He could have sat on the fence and stayed out of it quite easily. It was gutsy and it is indeed very risky politically. But unlike Mitty, he will generally choose what is right over what is politically expedient.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Jeff

      Being that he chose NOW to comment on it the issue makes it seem like he's just out for votes.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Key

      J.W – I realize he doesn't win those voters, nor is he trying – he'll never get the overzealous social conservatives who think gays are destroying their precious sacred marriage. I just find it weak to step up after it's all over.
      Observer – No, announcing it after the fact was easy...that let him take the side of the persecuted without taking any kind of real stand. Had he announced beforehand, he would have been standing against the amendment as well as the premise, and THAT would have been courageous. I wish he had done that.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Observer


      The easy way out for President Obama would have been to say, "Yep, I agree with the majority of you voters out there".

      May 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  12. Space Cat

    Meow! Our puny pawn receives our instructions from the teleprompter! Our evil plans for this puny planey are coming to fruition meow meow!!

    May 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  13. Laura

    Now I understand why the Romans fed christians to the lions.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • just sayin

      They didn't feed enough of them.

      May 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Smeagel4T

      Lion abuse?

      May 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • jassi

      What a kind, inclusive group you are in...

      May 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • grace

      and you don't see any hypocrisy in statements like this. amazing.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Rebel4Christ

      Yeah and Christians somehow are the hateful ones!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Rebel, you need to get to bed. It's a school night.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Mike

      Only if we could do that now

      May 10, 2012 at 6:53 am |
  14. alan

    is obama on the down low!!!!!!!!!

    May 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  15. Ann

    He barely chose his words in the ABC interview.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  16. *frank*

    Hey, Christians.......the revolting lie you base your lives really needs to go away.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  17. alan

    Maybe obama and hillary will come out of the closet now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    May 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  18. Anthony Caudill (tcaudilllg)

    There is still time to redeem yourselves... the opponents of gay marriage just may be on the short road to hell!

    May 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  19. just sayin

    Of course the religious nuts are upset over something that has nothing to do with them.

    May 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • matkins4268

      ALL WHAT YOUR HAVE IS DUE TO CHRISTIANITY ........................... speak to your god

      May 10, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  20. momoya

    This article is race-baiting.. thanks, cnn?

    May 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
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