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. Sarah

    It seems that this is a religious argument. And, if true, what happened to the first amendment whereby there shall be a "wall separating church and state"? Seems that the government has no right to interfere.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • mandarax

      It really is that simple.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  2. AJ

    Wouldn't God send someone to hell for destroying his property by dumping something harmful to people?

    May 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  3. AJ

    Maybe Barack Obama saw a gay couple treating one another with mroe respect than an abusive straight couple and thought hey...they treat one another better than the other so why shouldn't they be allowed to get married?

    May 9, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  4. AJ

    Why do people invoke wrath, destruction,...all negative things when talking about love betweeen two men or women?

    May 9, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  5. peick

    What is with saying everyone "evolved?" How do you evolve your view?

    Anyway, people are not going to change their minds (sorry, evolve their views) by reading posts on the CNN forum. But if Obama has pronounced this sort of thing OK, what is the authority behind his view? Is it "science," or public opinion, or just ambition to get more people on his side (i.e., expediency)?

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

      Evolve simply means change over time. Yes, the science has supported these views all along. The problem lies only with religion.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • AJ

      No authority...maybe he sees two people happy and loving one another. Why can't it be as simple as that?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  6. AJ

    Why would God hurt you in the afterlife for loving another human? Wouldn't that be immature?

    May 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  7. AJ

    im out of here. no one can explain to me why dividing people is ok rather then letting two people who care about one another be with one another.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  8. AJ

    Dad just said if we had Saturday elections, no Republican would be elected?! don't get it/

    May 9, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  9. AJ

    Why don't we have Saturday elections??

    May 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  10. a disgrace

    the lies pour out of obama's mouth like a river of garbage...

    May 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What lies?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  11. n8263

    NC looks even more backwards than ever before.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • mandarax

      I know. How disappointing.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  12. AJ

    I give up! I don't get old people. If you think gay marriage is wrong, what do you care? You're all half way to the grave anyway. All you tell me is your benefits..don't cut my medicare...I pay too much taxes...moan moan moan.


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

      Hey! I'm old and I'm for marriage equality! But I know what you mean. Isn't it horrible how crazy people can be?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • the fox

      I'll be 81years old this coming June, and I favor gay marriage. Please don't make assumptions about others and how they think..........

      May 9, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  13. mumlawyerlettered2themax

    This is inexplicable to me. I do not know why the President had to wade into this morass. He should have left it alone with Biden's remark. Polls or no polls, many Americans do not voice their true beliefs about gay marriage otherwise why is it voted down state after state? The Gay marriage issue is the new "Bradley effect" matter. People do not mean what they say. They go into the polling booth and vote the truth..

    Obama is lucky that Romney is such a weak candidate otherwise this move would have been super disastrous.
    Lets watch and see what happens and hope for the best out of this over zealous miscalculation.


    May 9, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • AJ

      Is it because most people who vote in primaries are old people with time on their hands?

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

      Why don't we have Saturday elections so everyone can vote?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • gary

      it's called the "truth". Not politically expedient maybe but nice to hear.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  14. meaz23

    Franklin Graham was blooooowing Tony Perkins when they heard the news. They both came at once.

    May 9, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  15. Ron

    "Judge not", religious right! I think God will judge these people on the deeds of their lives and whether or not they TRIED to live by His word through their deeds. Not so much on who they loved. What will He judge you on? Loving your brother? Be careful how you answer...

    May 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Ronin

      Wouldn't it be hilarious after all these so called "Christians" die they go up to heaven. And when they get to the gate, God gets there and tells them, "Hey, I told you guys the Jews were my chosen people, not you Christians. I made it pretty clear in my first book, have fun in Hell".

      May 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  16. Sarah in Vegas

    Tony Perkins: Come Out Already!

    May 9, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  17. AJ

    How does a gay couple make my life worse if they can get married?

    May 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  18. AJ

    Why would I not vote for someone just because they say it's cool for two people to love one another?! All this time invoking relgion or the bible, but it's love. Isn't that the point of religion?!

    May 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  19. Judged@41

    Hear that? It's the sound of millions of voters stampeding out of the Obama camp and into Romney's. First the huge NC victory and now this?? Folks, it just doesn't get any better than this.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • AJ

      Why would you change your vote just because someone thinks it's ok for two men or women to love one another! Help! I'm 15 and dont get this debate!

      May 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Ronin

      AJ you have to understand. People in America just hate Obama for no particular reason. These people are called Republicans. They also believe that people will now vote for a Mormon simply because Obama sides with most sane people and says gay marriage should be acceptable. Even though, if people looked up Mormonism for 2 minutes, they would have to be on serious drugs to believe a single word of it.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • meaz23

      And you sleep with your sister?

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

      Once Mittens realizes that most of the country feels the same way it will be interesting to watch him flip flop on this issue without really seeming to.......

      May 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • manhandler1

      Nice try keep hallucinating.......Millions of voters already know Obamas view on gay Americans....the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage act in court....I gues maybe your the only one ignorant enough to think he wasn't going to support it.

      May 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  20. Billy

    Next step, plural marriage.

    May 9, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • mikstov33

      That is in Mitt the wits corner.Called polygamy.Warren is in jail for it.A Presidential pardon,perhaps?

      May 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
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