Obama backs gay marriage: How it plays with Christian church leaders

The response from Christian church leaders ranged from "giddy" to "deeply saddening" when asked about President Obama's new support of gay marriage. Will it fire up evangelical Christians to vote against Obama in November?

(AP Photo/The Star-News, Ken Blevins)
Signs display messages about gay marriage in front of the Devon Park United Methodist Church, a polling site on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Wilmington, N.C. North Carolina voted for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Some rejoiced in the U.S. president's courage. Others predicted hellfire at the polls. One pastor said he would reflect on the matter in prayer.

President Barack Obama's announcement on Wednesday that he supported same-sex marriage stirred impassioned responses at places of worship across the United States, underscoring the risk he took in coming out in favor of such a controversial measure.

Gay and liberal Christians found renewed enthusiasm for Obama, who had disappointed many on the left when his 2008 message of hope and change ran into the realities of governing.

"It just makes me giddy with joy. I have been bouncing around all day," said the Reverend Annie Steinberg-Behrman, a United Church of Christ pastor in Berkeley, California, who married her partner in 2004.

IN PICTURES: The gay marriage debate

But some conservative Christians who cite the Bible in opposing gay marriage have also found a reason to campaign against Obama when he seeks re-election Nov. 6 against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

"This could definitely get them riled up ... hopefully," said Caryl Scales, a member of Hampton Road Baptist Church in DeSoto, Texas. "I'm not happy with it. I believe scripture. God's word says gay marriage is wrong."

National religious leaders with a weightier voice also came down against Obama.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called Obama's remarks "deeply saddening."
"We cannot be silent in the face of words or actions that would undermine the institution of marriage, the very cornerstone of our society," Dolan said in a statement. "The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better."

The Family Research Council, which says it champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, called Obama's position "disappointing but not surprising."

"Today's announcement almost ensures that marriage will again be a major issue in the presidential election," council President Tony Perkins said in a statement. "Romney ... may have been handed the key to social conservative support by President Obama," Perkins said.

Pentecostal Pastor Charles Bargaineer of the largely black New Fellowship Church of God in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park, Florida, was troubled by Obama's position, saying he may reconsider his support for the man he voted for in 2008.

"I don't think that's appropriate for the president," Bargaineer said. "The Bible's strictly against that."

Regarding whether he would vote for Obama again this year, he said, "I'll have to pray about that."

The Reverend Jane Spahr, a lesbian evangelist who has defied her Presbyterian Church by performing same-sex marriages, applauded the president.
"Because he understands oppression, he knows that loves is no second-class thing," Spahr said from her San Francisco home.

The Reverend Curran Reichert, a pastor at Community Congregational Church of Tiburon-Belvedere in California who is married to her partner, praised the president for doing what she called his job.
"You can't stop a moving train," Reichert said.

Another gay pastor, the Reverend Scott Clark of the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California, said it was uplifting for gay people to hear the message from the White House.

"It has taken him a while to get there," he said, "but it is just deeply moving for me to hear the president of the United States finally acknowledge the full dignity and humanity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our families."   

 (Reporting by Barbara Liston in Florida, Jon Nielsen in Texas, Ronnie Cohen in California, R.T. Watson in California, Harriet McLeod in South Carolina and Emily Le Coz in Mississippi; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

IN PICTURES: The gay marriage debate

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