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. mary lou maddox

    I am an 83 year old woman,a professing believer in Christ as my saviour,and the daughter of a Baptist minister.

    Everyone has a right to live as they believe and see fit to do so. A relationship between two people who love each other is to be cherished and protected.

    Hooray for President Obama...the move took courage!!!!

    Maybe there is hope for this country after all.

    There are 16 people in my family who believe the Presidents decision was correct!!!!!!!!!!

    May 10, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  2. JW from Arkansas

    The same so called religious conservatives who are so shocked and saddened by this decision are the same ones who opposed women's voting rights and the civil rights movement, all in the name of Christianity. They need to read the whole bible.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  3. Bill

    God is not a religion and we must stop using books that were written by men who proclaimed them to be the "word of God" to justify hate. God cannot be contained nor explained by a book written by men, only by opening your heart to the love of God will one come to know him.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • AtheistoMachisto

      What love are you talking about? I don't see any love out there except the human one.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • 3vix6

      ... and you know this how? Where did you learn this from?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  4. Citizen Jones

    And so the Antichrist awakes. From here on in let the devil worshipers rejoice, your leader walks amongst you.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Ben Dover righties

      Shut up Jonesy. You are Stuck in the stone age.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • kirby

      What is really funny, is you actually believe in this religious antichrist crap! Hope you are ready for the rapture.............

      May 10, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  5. Fronc

    I'm Catholic, but I support gay rights! I love my religion and think it's beautiful, but I don't necessarily agree with everything it preaches. The God I learned about is a loving God. He loves everyone. Isn't that a nice thought. Come on everybody, try to love one another! STOP THE HATE! Honestly, it's getting old. Don't you have other things to worry about? And if you think that being gay is some kind of disease and the whole population is going to go extinct because everyone turns gay, then you're just plain old delusional. You may what to check into a mental facility.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Mike in WI

      This person is one I see as a true Christian - someone who is able to accept the teachings of Christ and applly them to situations in today's society. I applaud people like Fronc who look for guidance from their religious beliefs but do not react to it as an absolute. I admire you Fronc!

      May 10, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Michael

      @ Fronc, true God does love everyone, but love is not blind or ignorant. Love does not mean do whatever you want, no matter the consequences, I don't care. Love says I want the best for you and don't want you to be hurt by others or for you to hurt yourself. Love does not invade the responsibility of standing for what is right. In fact, standing for what is right, is love. You wouldn't stand by and watch somebody do or say something bad about the person you love, you would stand up for them, which is the right thing to do.

      Believe it or not, love actually has a compenent of hate to it. For example, I love my daughter, therefore, I hate for her to feel bad. I love my wife, so I hate the idea of her being with someone else. So on and so on, the point is that God loves us, so He hates sin which does two things, it seperates us from Him and it is destructive to us, yes in a spiritual sense, but also in a physical sense.

      So, before pulling out the peace signs and saying that God loves everybody, lets get a proper picture of what love even is.

      May 10, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  6. Fred Evil

    Xtian Sharia Law should have NO MORE bearing on American law, than Muslim Sharia Law.
    This WAS one of my biggest issues with Obama, glad to know it's put to bed, and the RIGHT decision has been made.
    This country IS on the right path, now if we can only fix the embarrassment that is Congress, and STABILIZE THE DEBT.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  7. Roallin

    This country is secular and there is a distinction between church and state. According to the law, marriage is a binding contract between two people, nothing else, nothing more. How religion veiws marriage is a different story. If churches do not want to perform gay marraiges, then they should not be forced to. But anyone should be able to go see a judge and get married, gay or straight. Again, the religoius ascpects of marriage should have no play in what the law defines marriage being.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • LMK

      EXACTLY! Legal marriage and religious marriage should be two separate things. Oh wait they are. I can't get married in a Catholic church because I'm not Catholic, but I can get a marriage license at the courthouse, no problem. I don't have to get married in a church or Christian ceremony at all. I can get married by a Druid priest if I want. LEGAL marriage does not have to be religious! It's a civil procedure.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  8. AtheistoMachisto

    Christians , who cares about your book of fiction?

    May 10, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  9. Are you kidding me?

    How could you possibly compare gay marriage to marriage between an animal and human? That is so infuriating. You are making gays sound like animals. This isn't just about gay people having the right to be happy. It is about them having the same rights as every other human being in this country. No one is making you be gay so why should you care if someone else is? People have no problem if two straight people get drunk and on a whim decide to hit Vegas and get married so why should two people who really do love each other be denied that right?

    May 10, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • antigay


      May 10, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • LMK

      antigay, there are reported scientific observations of many, many species of animals (and humans are a type of animal) engaging in same gender pairings. Look it up and shut up.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • myweightinwords


      1) In actuality, I like gay M/M p.orn. And I'm a woman.
      2) Ho.mo.s.exual behavior is exhibited by many species. It exists in nature. Thus, it is natural.
      3) Marriage and indeed s.ex is not about procreation. If it were, we would not allow infertile couples to marry, nor those with no intent on having kids and no one over child bearing age would be allowed to marry. Until you're willing to deny marriage to everyone who can not have kids on their own (without medical or social assistance), then you can not deny gay marriage based on an inability to have children.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • kimmetnj

      @ Antigay... What if gays are god's natural solution to overpopulation and lack of parents for orphans? My point is that your logic is flawed and that just because two people cannot procreate does not mean it is not natural. Get to know a gay couple and you will see that they are just normal people trying to live their lives to the fullest.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  10. John

    I really do not care what the money changers think; from Joel what-ever-your-name-is to the grand Cardinal of Our Lady of Holy Molestation.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  11. antigay

    Id like to no how many heteros in this blog can watch male on male p*rnography without cringing or being repulsed? hypocracy i tell you!

    May 10, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • BRC

      How is not being interested in gay s-x the same thing as not supporting their right to marriage?

      More importantly, find me a straight man that doesn't think hot lesbian p-rn is pretty damn fantastic and I'll show you a liar. You're making an absurdist claim to try and bolster a defensless point.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Lukeskywalkr

      Jesus man. . . it's "know". A fourth grader knows that. Now I realize that you are either a child or a grade school dropout.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  12. darkstar

    Who cares what the religious right thinks? They believe in invisble sky daddies. Nuff said.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • CJMATL

      And you think you're a descendant of a MONKEY. LOL!

      May 10, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Lukeskywalkr

      Actually we're much more closely related to apes than monkeys. And you? You were created from a pile of dirt, mud, and sh1t with a dash of pixie dust? Which one is worse?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  13. mikle


    May 10, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  14. charlie

    How is it gonna hurt you?

    May 10, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  15. Rock Eater

    I tried to read the bible once but the grammar was so bad I put it down.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  16. n8263

    It is immoral to impose your personal Sharia Law on to others.
    Keep religion out of politics.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  17. pkrbkr

    What a brave and courageous statement by our president! And it is the right thing to say as this is indeed a civil rights issue! God loves ALL his creatures just the way He created them. This may be just the excuse for the biggotry and hate to continue, and cost votes, but credit to speaking with honesty from his heart! Obama/Biden 2012

    May 10, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  18. mdavidson

    I believe in a hill called mount calvary
    I believe whatever the cost
    And when time has surrendered
    And earth is no more
    I'll still cling to the old rugged cross
    I believe that this life with it's great mysteries
    Surely someday will come to an end
    But faith will conquer the darkness and death
    And will lead at last to my friend
    I believe that the Christ
    Who was slain on the cross
    Has the power to change lives today
    For He changed me completely
    A new life is mine
    And that is why by the cross
    I will stay
    I believe in a hill called mount calvary
    I believe whatever the cost
    And when time has surrendered
    And earth is no more
    I'll still cling to the old rugged cross
    For me this will never change, no matter what happens in this world!

    May 10, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      Ssssh!The Mormon has a plan. They want Romney who is a Mormon to win the presidency so they can pass a law to legalize polygamy and for you to marry your first cousins and take a younger wife. Isn’t that exciting?

      May 10, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • SomeGuyInNC

      Oh, just stick your fingers in your ears and go "la la la" already. Crybaby.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • darkstar

      There is a medication for that.

      May 10, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  19. Neeneko

    I always find it sad and amusing that so many denominations that clamored for protection when they were weak, now that they are strong, put so much energy into forcing their doctrine on the rest of the public. There was a time where baptists were not even allowed to preach and catholics were barred from cities... yet both fo those groups, now that they have the numbers, are trying as hard as they can to make sure THEIR version of Christianity is enshrined in law.. well, their version as of maybe a decade or two ago. Funny how quickly 'traditional' changes.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  20. george S

    Has evolved more into a civil liberties issue than a religious one....President Obama ...once again...has demonstrated his leadership..Well done.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:01 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.