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. Nooks

    I feel like we are about to be given up to our own desires soon. This is just another step.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • AJ

      How is my rents relationship any different from a gay couple who pays taxes and does the domestic thing?

      May 9, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Gay marriage is already legal in a number of states. Can you cite one negative effect it's had in any of them?

      I'll be waiting on tenterhooks, Nookie.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yeah, that's what I expected. Crickets chirping.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  2. Vera Waitress

    Every time a Christian politician against gay marriage says something online, or says something on TV, it will be recorded and laughed at for years to come. The footage will be shown interspliced with animated footage of the dinosaurs stepping into the LaBrea Tar Pits. Think about how embarrassed their children will be. Their footage and their comments will play alongside those laughable clips of George Wallace " I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." These sad, ignorant, narrow-minded Christian beasts will be fodder for comedians for years to come. But now it will be more intense for them, thanks to the computer age. We'll know who said what, where their children are, how they live, and how they reconcile their parents' myopic comments.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • angelrosas999

      I agree with you 100 percent. There is so much ignorance in this world. Religious people claim to know everything and yet they break their own rules. Ill give 200 years from now and religion will extinct for good.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Vera Waitress,,,,,,,,,,,, ,

      On a less humorous side of the lines being drawn,,,, "What will the "Bi's" of s.e.x.u.a.l. isms want done to the state's laws? Shall the states allow for Bi-marriage-rings of 3 or more genderisms to copulate? Where then will it end?

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

      Pipe Dreamer, er, God's Oldest Dreamer, the line might be drawn when circus midgets ask to wed the dancing bears that are wearing tutus, when cat's try to marry dogs, or when waitresses from Juarez try to marry pony's from their midnight shows.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  3. Nooks

    One step closer to Roman times.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Phosphorus

      Roman or Greek...and yet, they were the pillars of knowledge that helped to transform parts of the world into a far more intellectual state of being, and the developed world owes a tremendous thank you to both civilizations for evolving us culturally, socially, intellectually, philosophically, etc.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  4. AJ

    Something someone said about other people and religion...if I see a homeless guy veteran from Iraq or Afghanistan, aren't I supposed to help him even if he sleeps with other guys? isn't that relgion?

    May 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  5. besmavtx

    The presidents remarks or conclusion alarms me... I do believe that we are to treat each other with respect, but if people are wrong and wish to be treated as if they're right, then our president has missed the point of Christ coming and him dieing for our sin. Christ purpose was to deal with sin. Christ came to transform culture and not to allow culture to transform Christ into it. The president totally missed the purpose of marriage.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • AJ

      Who defines what is wrong?

      May 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • fail

      some jack apparently apparently wrote in a book to judge not.. but hey, who follows that whackjob

      May 9, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • freeme10

      What? Perhaps you need to read something other than the Bible, your sentences are just as cryptic.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • freeme10

      Plus, it is dying – not dieing - were you home schooled? If so, it didn't take.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Ronin

      I'm still not personally sure why on Earth Jesus died for us. The world was perfectly fine before him and has been perfectly fine after him. Except now we get religious people complaining and whining about abortion, gay marriages, and murdering people.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer


      He didn't miss anything! He drew a line upon the sands! The marriage rings of "heteralisms" adverasries is upon the states and the "federalisticisms" have as in the days of Ponchus Pilate left it up to their statuesque rulers of the states to decide and debate what their mobs' wills are to be and become!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Primewonk

      We are not a theocracy. I don't understand why you fundiots can't understand that.

      Please point out the Article, Section, and Clause, in our Constĭtution that grants your version of a god powers over our secular laws.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • HypocritePolice

      "Christ came to transform culture and not to allow culture to transform Christ into it. The president totally missed the purpose of marriage."

      So you really think that all the rules laid down in the bible are not meant to evolve as society evolves? Do you endorse and participate in slavery? Bible says that's ok. Do you stone your neighbors to death if they work on the sabbath? Bible says you should. Have you ever handled a football? Bible says touching the skin of a pig is sinful. Are any of your clothes a cotton/polyester blend? Yup, bible says you're not supposed to allow cloth made of two different materieals to touch your skin, or off to hell you go!

      Grow up "Christians". if you're going to follow the bible, follow all of it. Don't use parts of it to justify your hatred and fear of others, but then ignore the parts you don't like.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Primewonk,,,,,,,,,,,, ,

      True we aren't living in a theocracy! We live in a republic nation with democracy's roots becoming the chains of liberalisms firmaments! The embittered falseness in the word "Freedom" does no longer ring with righteousness accolades as once was a nation of lovers in the Word yet now the Word is nothing but a welcome mat to be stepped upon!

      May 9, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Gibberish again from GOD.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Phosphorus

      The idea that a few thousand years ago, a man died for sins of those that have yet to be committed is stupid. Teaching that ignorant rubbish is the greatest sin of all!

      May 10, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • The Bible says

      remember guys, god came down to earth to save us from the fate of eternal hellfire that he originally condemned us to because he let a woman get influenced by a talking snake to eat a piece of fruit! Its a good thing he came to save us from himself or else where would we be?!

      May 10, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  6. AJ

    I'm not gay but I think its great my two friends are very happy. I don't think of God when I see them kiss. I see them as happy.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  7. nolimits3333

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion flies you into buildings.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  8. AJ

    that's what I mean. aren't we all supposed to help one another? help each other in a way that makes them fulfilled and you as well? regardless of religion?

    May 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  9. Snow

    more fun things up for consti.tutional amendments ..
    – astrologies/horoscopes
    – adultery
    – whacking off
    – divorce
    – boasting
    – eating blood
    – complaining on anything
    etc.. etc

    afterall, there should not be cherry picking and should follow every rule.. right? or do chirstians have the divine right to only push for things they personally do not like, while ignoring those they don't mind?

    Which of the above would the devout folk here be willing to support const.itutionally banning?

    May 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  10. JackLM

    Religious conservatives have made themselves utterly irrelevant to most Americans, and most people could care less if they fell off a cliff tomorrow. President Obama did the right thing, and just because a handful of whackos that nobody likes are "riled" means absolutely NOTHING, as they would never vote for a Democrat anyway.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Jim Weix

      The extreme people, be they left or right, do not represent anyone but a few pointy headed followers.
      Most of us, which is the vast majority, have no use for people with extreme right or left views.
      Obama will likely pick up some votes because of the issue, but the right will say he is destroying marriage and the left will say that he didn't go far enough.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Ronin

      Jim, as much as I would love to agree with you. Religious lunatics have pretty much hijacked American politics. Just look at the Tea Party. And the entire Bible Belt.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  11. John

    He shouldn't lose any votes–anyone bigoted against gays were probably already voting GOP because they are bigoted against blacks as well.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  12. phillip777

    This isn't gonna be much of an issue. Cheney supports gay marriage and republicans don't have a problem with him. I like the fact that Obama can change his opinion on issues. Republicans in the media have always said a president can never change his views on issues or else appear weak and incompetent. Maybe if Bush had this quality he wouldn't have stayed in Iraq for so long

    May 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  13. Cynthia L.

    Liberty and Justice for ALL!!

    May 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  14. Jim Weix

    Not that anyone cares what the religious right thinks, but Obama just made the election debate more interesting.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  15. BOb the Prairie Dog

    One more time people: NO ONE knows what happens when we die, and ANYONE claiming such knowledge is a liar who probably wants your money. Please make a note of it.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Hologram

      If someone came back from the dead and told you what it was like about the afterlife, would that be good enough for you to believe them?

      Oops – that someone was Jesus Christ.

      Too bad you don't believe Him or in Him.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  16. AJ

    Sorry I'm going off topic onto the why's of religious behavior.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  17. Jay

    Bottom line. If youre truly a religious person ("christian") you wouldnt be involved in politics. You wouldnt condemn people, It not your place. And you would be trying to help people get faith and allow them to make their own decision about living as God wants or doing what they want. In the end, the bible is clear about who will be destroyed. People who go against are clear evidence that people have acquired teachers to tickle their ears. Shake the dust from your feet and move on...

    But false christians dont get it... Theyre going down with them.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Ronin

      Yeap. Thank God though we have people who go against the bible. Hard to imagine where science and civilization would be if the Dark Ages and Christian Theocracy was still dominant nowadays.

      May 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Jay,,,,,,,,,,,, ,

      Who got the boot and left you to become the chairman of the board? Your demeanor of candorlessness is duly noted!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Ronin,,,,,,,,, ,

      Christendom has been stacking the decks whenever they can chance it! Southern Africa, Christendoms new playground and their pious dingle-berries of half-baked concoctions that will never amount to a hill of beans!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  18. God's Oldest Dreamer

    The gay and lesbian crowds must be wetting in their panties over what has occured! Still yet, it will be upon the coat-tails of the states and not the federal government to allow same s.e.x marriage "rings" to become a leavened rhapsody! What eer will the "Bi" crowd do next?

    May 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  19. AJ

    As a side note...Aren't all Catholics supposed to help those who are less fortunate or can't help themself? Isn't that the point of going to church every Sunday? Maybe help someone who is less fortunate than you?

    Why is my uncle a strong Catholic, but thinks that helping someone down on their luck is wrong? Aren't we all supposed to help those people?

    May 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      AJ,,,,,,,,,,,, ,

      People go to church because it is the "secular thing" to do! Eat drink abd be gay for come what will of May!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Edward

      I think you should help the less fortunate if you are a Christian, an athiest or anything else. Unfortunately a lot of people go to church for the wrong reasons.

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

      that's what I mean. aren't we all supposed to help one another? help each other in a way that makes them fulfilled and you as well? regardless of religion?

      May 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  20. Tim

    The religious right can go to hell (since they believe it exists).

    May 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Wardrobe Malfunction

      I've decided to go to Narnia when I die...

      May 9, 2012 at 8:25 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.