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. Jim

    In Romneys world, if his religion had its way, and men had many wives, would the wives be "gay" if they went to bed, and the man stepped out of the room, and the wives enjoyed each others company without the man?

    May 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  2. winstonsmith

    Good to see those "small government" conservatives again trying to control gay people's lives through government.

    You can't spell hypocrisy without "go f- yourself cause God says so".

    May 9, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Jim

      EXACTLY: conservatives only want small government, unless there is a moral issue they need to force upon you for your own good.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • briawinde

      Yes, they are all for "small government" when it comes to the vulnerable in our country but when it comes to interjecting religion into politics..their spending knows no bounds. Since they refuse to consider changes in taxes (via either doing away with some tax benefits or increasing rates), I guess its you, me and anyone who isn't wealthy that eventually ends up paying for it.

      The Tea Party/Republican faction being hypocritical as usual.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  3. Jim

    Re Romney being against gay marriage: if his church had their way, men could have multiple wives. So, apparently it would be ok for multiple women to marry, as long as there was a man thrown into the picture.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  4. Ann Nava

    This cements my vote for sure as to who I want in the White House. Goodbye Obama and Hello President Romney. You may have just shot yourself in the foot!!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • AB

      You were already going to vote for Romney, stop acting like this changed anything.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      You are kidding, right?

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

      Good thinking. Base your vote on one issue that has nothing to do with his job as president. Bush was a disaster, but would you want to have him as a president now since he talks to God all the time (and apparently gets bad advice)?

      May 9, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Joseph Smith

      Yes, I'm sure that was the deciding factor for you Ann Naive.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • sam

      Ann was TOTALLY on the fence right up until today. LOL

      May 9, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  5. Heather

    I think this helps the Republicans who are overwhelmingly for traditional marriage. 32 states have voted for marriage and all 32 have voted against gay marriage, including liberal California.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  6. scared for future

    Alright Christian evangelicals, who are you going to vote for: A Christian who supports gay marriage or a Mormon who doesn't? I know your heads hurt just thinking about it...

    May 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  7. Roberto

    GOP just lost the elections people!!!

    May 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  8. Roberto

    Check how many of those conservatives have mistresses or are closet gays!!! they are very much a ton of hypocrites. Of course they are rile, now there is a sharp contrast and people will start seeing how backwards and zealots they really are. They want to get in government to start dictating their religious agenda on everyone.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  9. MJ

    I love the whole "why not let the states decide what they want to do with marriage themselves" argument. Didn't they also do that with slavery way back when and we had to get someone with common sense to step in? Oh I donno..that was Lincoln wasn't it? That's why they've always said "separation of church and state"...there is a reason for that. Law is not suppose to be biased.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Spot on!

      May 9, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • MJ

      Yea then I think I remember something like that again....it had something to do with these beings called "females" and not suppose to have rights like a normal human being. Something about a book with some words in it only talked about men with rights. I think I remember another person with common sense having to step in with that too. Seems to be a trend throughout history with that. Maybe I'll go watch the show Rome again. Those Romans sure had politics spot on........

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

      Well said, MJ! Our Civil Rights are Federal, national rights that cut across ALL state lines, but the bigots want their own little kingdoms where they can crush the people they don't like with impunity within state lines, becoming little religious enclaves where they can torture and beat their own children to death. It is happening even now – a child is probably being beaten to death because of some intolerant religious bigot who thinks they can play god with other people, especially their own children.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  10. Jim

    I thought conservatives wanted government out of our lives. Why are they trying to control gay people?

    May 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Ned

      Another excellent question, Jim. There is something about religion that is so opposed to happiness in others that may be a result of the religious texts they purport to follow. At the very least they are hypocrites. At worst, criminals who violate the freedoms and rights of others with a callousness and cruelty that is often shocking to behold.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  11. Alan

    My wife and I were fence-sitters before, but we feel confident in voting for Barack Obama again. We have friends who are in committed gay relationships. Why shouldn't they be allowed to consumate their vows? They're in love. The "Pursuit of Happiness" has greater meaning for many today

    May 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      They are humans first before labels.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Ned

      I like to see people peacefully happy and having good relationships regardless of the details, which are a great many.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Jim Hahn

      Alan, Thank you to you and your wife for believing that equality is something all of us should enjoy.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  12. Irskan

    I fail to understand why these political advocacy groups, er, churches, are still tax exempt....?

    May 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      They shouldn't be!

      May 9, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Ned

      An excellent question. I do not have an answer I could give without a great many curse words being included to express my disgust at how things have developed in our tax code.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  13. TAK

    The right can't hate the president any more than they already do so he loses nothing from this. The left wasn't going to vote for Romney but they might have stayed home on election day. Now the left is enthused again. Point, Obama. Independents like me may or may not support his stance but we are even more turned off by the right's bigotry, which will only get more heated by this announcement. Another point, Obama.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  14. carlos

    don't be fooled, there are soooooooooooooooooo manyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy gay republiCONS and from the religious right that they could fill about three red states, and theyb do it with great hypocrisy, like behind the green door.
    And the funnnnnnnnnnnnny walking mittsy, doubtful..............

    May 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  15. Scott

    Yes, Obama just destroyed his campaign, He just lost the religious vote, the Hispanic vote, and most of the Independent vote, Not to mention he energized the Christan base like it has never been done before. Come November Obama is done

    May 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Darw1n

      Thanks for you unquestionable vision of the future, Joe Stradamus

      May 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Scott

      Your very welcome Darw1n =)

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

      You're wrong, Scott. Polls show 50% of Americans in favor of gay marriage with a 10% margin uncertain... and that 10% who is uncertain probably won't make it a sticking point in the election.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Interested48

      More than half of Americans now support gay marriage and the numbers are steadily growing.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Roberto

      Scott, sorry not hispanic, ricky Martin is hispanic and people loves him and what he really is. I have many black friends that are gay and latino friends too! so that is not true at all. I am not gay but i respect their feelings and support them and i am hispanic.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Roberto

      oh forgot too, i am catholic and right now they are on my hit list for the pedophile cases and just sitting on the fence and this Donahue guy bashing the president when the first one that should not even talk is them. As far as i am concerned they need to start paying taxes as well.

      May 9, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  16. Hilda

    obama has my vote...LOVE the part (Treat others the way you would want to be treated).....

    May 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  17. Jonathan Jupp

    How does a gay couple being married, who live a mile away, affect straight religious married couples? How does that change their lives? It's a religious straw-man.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      They are so indoctrinated they do not have the capacity to think for themselves. They are delusional and irrational.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  18. Darnell Clayton

    Black People are going to support the 1st black president in droves, We are not going to make the mistake of being on the wrong side of history.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      So you are saying that the blacks will choose race over god?

      May 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  19. wolfpackbob

    It's the economy, stupid. Well played, President Obama!

    May 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  20. Animenut

    Why these conservatives think it is their business is beyond me.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why they care is beyond me.

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

      It's beyond me.

      May 9, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
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