In an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts, the president painted his endorsement of same-sex marriage as an outgrowth of his Christian beliefs:
“ ... [Michelle and I] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others 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, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”
Obama also acknowledged the religious issues at play in his previous hesitance to embrace gay marriage:
“I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word ‘marriage’ was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth.
“But I have to tell you that over the course of several years, as I’ve talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet feel constrained even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone because they’re not able to commit themselves in a marriage, 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.”
At a 2008 campaign event at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, Obama framed his opposition to same-sex marriage in Christian terms. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”
The Fix’s Chris Cillizza details what he calls Obama’s “calculated gamble” in the wake of North Carolina’s vote for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The president’s statement occurred days after Vice President Biden came out in support of same-sex marriage.
Cillizza’s analysis, and Obama’s own framing of his decision as a religious one, nod to the beliefs and traditions related to marriage that continue to shape debates over gay marriage nationwide.
Obama’s comments drew reaction from religious leaders across the nation, including the Rev. Richard D. Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who was quoted in the New York Times saying:
“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.”
Land spoke with two black ministers after Obama’s remarks and, the Times reports, said the move cost Obama their votes. “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,” Land said.
The Rev. Joel Hunter, who Obama calls his spiritual adviser, told the Associated Press that Obama called him before the announcement and that he told the president he disagreed with his interpretation of what the Bible says about marriage.
Hunter, who leads the 15,000-member Northland church near Orlando, said it is now harder for him to support Obama, but that he would continue to do so. He said the president reassured him that he would protect the religious freedom of churches that oppose gay marriage.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the bishops “cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society. The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better.”
"It is very depressing news when the president of the United States uses his power or influence to endorse same-sex marriage," Wright, who leads Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., told Baptist Press. "Scripture is very clear that from the beginning, God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman. It is important for us who are followers of Jesus to uphold the sacredness of marriage according to Scripture."
Update: Thursday, 12:18 p.m.: More reaction continues to roll in from the religious world, including a response from Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop whose elevation was an accelerant in the church’s schism in America. Robinson, who gave an invocation before Obama’s inauguration in 2008, told the Associated Press that “he is grateful and proud that Obama is supporting gay marriage.”
The Orthodox Union, a Jewish public interest group, said Wednesday that it was “disappointed by today’s statement by President Obama endorsing legal recognition of same sex marriage. Jewish law is unequivocal in opposing same sex relationships.” But the group added that it appreciated the president’s statement in which he said he respected “the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines.”