His statement came just one day after North Carolina became the 31st state to approve a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. On the same day that Obama announced his support for same sex marriage, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney announced his support for “marriage for a man and woman only.” Since 2000, opinion polls have shown growing support for gay rights and same sex marriage. At the same time, most polls show that same sex marriage is not at the top of the list of concerns of most people polled.
Within Obama’s strongest support base – the African American community – the President’s statement has been met variously.
Black church leaders are believed popularly to take the strongest position against gay rights and same sex marriage. The issue has divided members of the Black clergy, a professional group which led get-out the vote and registration efforts in support of Mr. Obama’s Presidential Campaign 2008, when his views on gay marriage and gay rights were not announced. Church leaders who are vocal and openly against gay rights, and especially marriage, cite Biblical scripture as the basis of their view.
Some who support it believe there are some avenues where gay rights can be supported because of social and political changes since the writing of the Bible. President Obama couched his stance on Biblical teachings when he said, “Michelle and I we 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.”
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Rev. Patrick Wooden, the head pastor of the Pentecostal affiliated Upper Room Church of God in Christ, according to a story in the New York Times, was one of the chief organizers and supporters of that state’s recently passed anti-gay marriage amendment. He stood in the pulpit last Sunday (May 12) to a standing ovation and noted “God’s high hand” which led voters to support the measure. Wooden denounced President Obama for taking his position “in support of sin” and “in opposition to the Biblical model of marriage.”
Theologian James Cone, one the nation’s most well-known Black theologians and author of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” questions why the Black church would cite scripture to exclude gays when a similar approach to the Bible was used to enslave Blacks in America. “It’s so unfortunate,” says Cone. “The literal approach to scripture was used to enslave black people. I’ve said many times in black churches that the black church is on the wrong side of history on this. It’s so sad because they were on the right side of history in their own struggle.”
Local pastors who have weighed in on the controversy include Rev. Geoffrey Gunns, the Senior Pastor of the Second Calvary Baptist Church in Norfolk, who disagrees with the President’s opinion on gay marriage. “My personal opinion is that I am diametrically opposed to the President’s opinion,” said Gunns. “My opinion is not based on political calculation, but a Biblical posture … that scripture and God’s original intent focused on the creation of Adam and Eve, which clearly states that marriage is for a man and woman. You cannot rewrite or reinterpret scripture. There are those who loosely interpret scripture to justify their liberal opinions on scripture which cannot be rewritten.”
Newport News pastor Rev. Marcellus Harris said, “I can see his position in terms of it (gay marriage) being a political issue and one related to civil rights,”said Harris, Pastor of First Baptist Church Morrison of Newport News. ”I do not think he had any other choice because of the issue of rights. The view on the issue varies in the Black community. He may have some problems with the Black clergy, especially those who believe scripture is the final word on the subject.”
While Black preachers and White evangelical leaning Republicans may be voicing their opposition to the President’s stand on Gay Marriage, many Black politicians and rights activists are giving him support. Gaylene Kanoyton, a Chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, said that religious and political leaders are not being fair or consistent about the issue of Biblical teachings and rights when it comes to same sex marriage.
“I do not think people can pick and choose what is covered under equal rights and what is not,” said Kanoyton. “We should not be picking what is equal rights and what is not. If that be the case, then African Americans will find themselves in the back of the bus again. So far as the Bible, we do not tell adulterers they cannot marry; that slaves have to respect their masters…that women cannot preach in the church. We cannot allow opponents of President Obama or civil rights to use this issue to divide Black people. We have too many other important issues related to jobs, education and our families.”
State Senator Louise Lucas of Portsmouth said that she is glad that the President addressed the issue early in the campaign so that “we will be able to concentrate on more critical issues facing our community. “This is going to be the most critical Presidential election in a generation,” she said. ”There are opponents of the President who would not vote for him regardless of his stand on the issue. I am hoping that people who have supported him will not use this issue as an excuse to vote against their own political and self interest. The President’s thinking has evolved on an issue related to discrimination. African Americans, especially, have evolved from one of the most egregious forms of discrimination – slavery.”