Leaders of some of the nation's largest religious denominations said they were distressed and saddened Wednesday by President Barack Obama's newly announced support for gay marriage.
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."
In the ABC interview, Obama linked his decision to his faith in Jesus Christ and the Golden Rule, which he paraphrased as: "Treat others the way you would want to be treated."
But leaders across the American religious spectrum blasted the president's remarks:
- New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Obama's remarks "undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society. The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better."
- The Rev. Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Obama's statements "a calculated, politically expedient decision that completely ignores the biblical foundation of marriage."
- Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt 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."
- Bob Vander Plaats, the head of The Family Leader, a conservative faith group focused on politics in Iowa, said that the move will stoke a part of the religious base even more against Obama. “They were already fired up to get rid of Obama. This will only make them more on fire to get rid of Obama. And if I’m Romney today, I’m smiling," he said.
- The Rev. Richard D. Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in an interview with The New York Times that he was both "saddened and mystified" by the president's declaration. "When the president comes out in favor of something it has an impact, and that saddens me because I think embracing same-sex marriage would be a terrible mistake for the country," he said.
- The Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group that represents 45,000 churches in 40 denominations, also expressed disappointment to The New York Times. "The evangelical community is broadly committed to define marriage as between one man and one woman and will not accept an unbiblical definition," he said.
The announcement puts Obama at odds with Romney, who opposes same-sex marriage and who voiced that opposition in an interview on Wednesday.
"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 Perkins.
“The president has provided a clear contrast between him and his challenger, Mitt Romney," Perkins continued.
Dolan's statement also said, "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."
"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," Bishop Harry Jackson the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church, in Washington, D.C., told CNN.
Jackson said the timing made him suspect the motives were political, "coming out of the North Carolina victory for the traditional marriage groups and maybe have people kind of rally behind this pro same-sex marriage cause."
Ralph Reed, a long-time fixture in social conservative circles and a top organizer among religious conservatives, told CNN that Obama’s announcement was a “gift to the Romney campaign.”
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.”
“This decision may have made Barack Obama a one-term president,” added Vander Plaats
A Gallup Poll conducted this month found that 50 percent of American adults support legal recognition of same-sex marriage, while 48 percent oppose it. But American presidents are elected state by state in an electoral college system, and the issue is highly contentious in many battleground states like Florida.
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.
Land said he had just received phone calls from two black Southern Baptist ministers who said they could no longer vote for the president, and he added, "I know the president is a really smart man, and his campaign staff are really smart, but they have to know it was black votes that carried the opposition to same-sex marriage to victory in California."
Perhaps the president is simply taking a stand based on his beliefs, Land told the Times. "It may be a profile in courage."
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