The Religious Politics of Same-Sex Marriage

Fascinating developments in the USA where, as North Carolina comes out and votes yes on Amendment One (banning the recognition not just of gay marriage but Civil Unions in the State), President Obama comes out and declares his support for gay marriage. This was followed up by Romney declaring his opposition, but the big story was Obama trying to make a religious case for the innovation and the way that was reported.

This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, 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. 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 as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president.

Cranmer has some interesting thoughts about how the media is two-faced when it comes to reporting these events.

His Grace has noticed something: when right-wingers quote Jesus or other verses of Scripture in defence of the traditional view of marriage as a union of one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation , they are increasingly cast as religious wing-nuts and homophobic bigots. But when left-wingers invoke Scripture or Christ to the cause of same-sex union, there is a veritable frenzy of enlightened jubilation that they have grasped profound truth and seen the light. Those believers who once walked exclusively in the heterosexual valley of the shadow of death have found true comfort in the gay staff of righteousness; those who once insisted on blind gender complementarity can now see; those who were lame in arguing for mothers and fathers can run a marathon of rainbow joy that one may have two fathers (or mothers). When the antediluvian heterosexual-marriage bigots repent of their medieval myopia, the angels weep for joy and all the heavenly host rejoices.

Now, that’s an interesting point to make and has some basis, but I’m far more fascinated as to why Obama has made a religious argument for gay marriage. I think it has far less to do with Obama being convinced from Scripture that gay marriage is a good thing (I think he justs thinks it is period, and it goes down very well with his core vote) and far more to do with his opponent’s religion and the problem that raises for Romney.

Here’s the thinking that went on in the White House (one supposes): “What we really need is to fracture the Republican core vote and make sure that as many Evangelicals as posible don’t vote for Romney the Mormon. But how do we do that without making Romney’s mormonism an explicit issue which would open us to charges of religious intolerance? Why not raise religion as a side issue to another issue and in doing so make  all those Evangelicals think about how their natural candidate doesn’t have the same faith they have. By keeping religion on the front burner we constantly implicitly remind the Republican core vote that Romney is, in their minds, part of a cult.”

I think that’s actually very clever politics, but it has the possibility of back-firing if it actually prompts some Evangelicals to vote for Romney because he opposes gay marriage. The way that the White House will continue this narrative may very well depend on the response to polling asking questions like “Would support for gay marriage make you more / less likely to vote for Obama / Romney”. If the Obama camp determines that this approach is actually gaining them an electoral advantage, watch for much much more of this kind of thing coming out of the White House.

Of course, we need to remember that marriage (and civil unions) are a State issue, not a Federal issue, but then that plays into Obama’s hands. He can safely express an opinion on something that he acknowledges he cannot legislate on. He gets to make policy statements, split the Republican vote (ideally) without having to commit a cent of Federal budget.

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  • Daniel Walters

    Seems smart politics to me. Would many anti-gay marriage voters have voted for Obama anyway, even if he’d avoided the issue?

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      I think the Prop 8 vote in California showed that on this issue many of the 2008 Obama voters disagree with him. I wonder whether they’ve already done research on how likely the new voters in 2008 are to vote again in 2012.

      • Daniel Walters

        But it’s not just whether they’d vote again. It’s what proportion of the anti-gay marriage 2008 voters feel it’s a top priority issue. I’d wager there’ll be a fairly substantial chunk who, while opposed to it on principle, aren’t fanatical about it and would have other priorities. 

        In any case, isn’t the question of gay marriage decided on a state-by-state basis, as in North Carolina? So the fact that Obama likes gay marriage may not matter that much to some…

        (EDIT: Sorry, I didn’t read your article closely enough, you already made that last point!)

  • Pingback: Obama plays religion with same sex marriage « Andrew Johnson

  • Sean_Fear

    Black voters are the section of the electorate who are most hostile to same-sex marriage in the USA, but I think very few of them will desert Obama because of the issue (and in part because it’s a State matter, unless SCOTUS rules that there is a constitutional right for two people of the same sex to get married).

    As it happens, I do think it will cement support for Romney among Evangelical Republicans.  For them, opposing same-sex marriage will matter far more than Romney’s religion.  OTOH, it also helps push up turnout among left-wing Americans, who’ve been unhappy with Obama over a number of issues (such as the failure to close Guantanamo Bay) and gets strong support from gay organisations, who’ll open their wallets for Obama.

    The US is fairly evenly divided on the issue, according to polls, although when the issue does get voted on in ballot initiatives, opponents of same sex marriage tend to do better than the polling.  I don’t think it will cause many supporters of either party to switch sides, but will fire up the base on both sides.  I take it as a sign that Obama is aiming for a narrow win, based on turning out his core.

  • Tom Jones
    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      If we were all held to account for evermore for everything we’d done as a teenager then none of us would get any kind of job anywhere.

  • nowconcerned

    1965?  Come on!  I don’t know much about American politics or whether I would support this candidate, but it seems to me that going all the way back to 1965 is really scrapping the bottom of the barrel.  Can’t the opposition engage in any actual political arguments?  And this is not in any way a clear incident of gay bullying.  I was explicitly bullied for being a lesbian for most of my school life from the age of 9 (not that I actually was, of course, children can’t be gay or straight, despite the ridiculous PC rubbish that’s being spouted at the moment).  I don’t hold it against any of the people who did it.  They were just kids too.  If we all held grudges from our school days we’d all be miserable, twisted, bitter people.  Oh, wait – isn’t that what Jesus told us we were?  Before you accuse someone of hate, go and look in the mirror.

  • Andrew & Helen

    Hi Peter,
    Your front page had an advert encouraging people to sign a pro gay marriage petition for Minnesota today. Not sure if there’s anything you can do about it – I imagine it picks ads based on key words on your page. But thought you would like to know!
    Andrew Reid

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