Political Marriage

May 14, 2012

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced he had changed his position on same-sex marriage and now favored allowing such unions to occur. This marked the climax of Obama's "evolution" on the issue in recent years. The Columbia Journalism Review had a good piece noting how Obama's shift on the position is often referred to by media outlets as him "evolving" on the issue while presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney is often cast as "flip-flopping" on this issue (and many others). The position change by Obama has resulted in confessional politics being employed by both sides of this partisan debate. As he announced his support for same-sex marriage, Obama framed his new position in highly Christian terms:

And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and [Michelle] 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.
Amy Sullivan, author of The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap, noted that the move was another sign that members of both parties invoke God and the Bible to justify political positions. Such an effort is a feature of confessional politics. Not surprisingly, Obama's declaration on Wednesday sparked numerous responses, including many from Christians criticizing his new position. Among conservative Christian critics, responses ranged from polite disagreement like that of Joel Hunter, a conservative evangelical megachurch pastor in Florida who serves as a spiritual adviser to Obama, to the aggressive condemnation like that of Franklin Graham, an evangelist who has previously argued Obama was not a Christian. Also not surprisingly, the move by Obama has excited some conservative evangelicals to rally behind Romney despite their previous misgivings. Former Romney foe Rick Santorum even urged Romney to use the issue as a "potent weapon," thus suggesting the "culture wars" are quite alive. Obama may do more to help conservative evangelicals accept their political marriage with Romney than Romney had been able to do in years of campaigning. Perhaps the most interesting word choice in describing how the issue of same-sex marriage is rallying the troops. A Romney adviser said the issue "engenders strong feelings on both sides." The use of "engenders" during a campaign that has been about various sexual and gender issues was an interesting one. Nonetheless, it seems quite obvious the issue does indeed engender numerous religious responses.

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