WASHINGTON — Just one day after North Carolina voters overwhelmingly defended traditional marriage in their state, President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex “marriage,” prompting swift responses from Catholic leaders and redrawing the political battle lines in an election year.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan called the president’s support for efforts to redefine marriage “deeply saddening” and said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will not be silent in the face of words and actions that will undermine marriage, the cornerstone of society.
“The people of this country, especially our children, deserve better. Unfortunately, the president’s words today are not surprising, since they follow upon various actions already taken by his administration that erode or ignore the unique meaning of marriage,” Cardinal Dolan, the U.S. bishops conference president, said in a prepared statement.
The Archdiocese of Washington, now engaged in battle to secure a referendum on same-sex “marriage” in Maryland, also issued a statement opposing attempts to redefining marriage and vowed it would continue to “strongly advocate” for the federal government’s existing definition of marriage as that of between one man and one woman.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee who will challenge Obama in November, reaffirmed his defense of traditional marriage Wednesday while speaking with reporters after a campaign event in Oklahoma City.
“I have the same view on marriage that I had when I was a governor: I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Romney said.
Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, said, “Politically, we welcome this. We think it’s a huge mistake.” She said the choice is now clear between Romney and Obama.
“Marriage is a winning issue for the GOP,” said Gallagher, who argued that the president was “choosing the money over the voters.” Indeed, after Vice President Joe Biden days earlier expressed his belief that homosexuals ought to be allowed to “marry,” The Washington Post reported, "About one in six of Obama’s top campaign ‘bundlers’ are gay, according to a Washington Post review of donor lists, making it difficult for the president to defer the matter. Activists are planning a campaign for the adoption of a pro-gay-marriage plank in this year’s Democratic Party platform.”
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus issued a statement suggesting that same-sex “marriage” will be an issue the GOP will focus on this coming Election Day.
The president’s sudden support for same-sex “marriage,” after years of saying he was “evolving” on the issue, followed similar statements in the past week from Biden, a self-described Catholic, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The political pressure had been building on the president to come out in favor of same-sex “marriage,” especially from many within the homosexual-rights lobby and others sympathetic to the cause.
In a Wednesday televised interview on ABC, Obama, who had previously expressed support for civil unions, said his views had changed after being prodded by relatives and friends who are homosexual.
“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,” said Obama.
The president’s announcement pleased liberal and homosexual-rights groups. The American Civil Liberties Union’s executive director, Anthony Romero, said the president did the right thing.
“The fight for fairness and equal treatment under the law for all Americans took a critical step forward today,” Romero said in a prepared statement.
And a series of referendums this year on same-sex marriage — including one in the swing state of North Carolina on Tuesday — are putting the issue at the forefront.
The singer-actress Cyndi Lauper, a longtime supporter of homosexual rights, also released a statement that she had never been prouder of the president.
“The president’s support of marriage equality gives hope and encouragement to the millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people who feel ostracized and alone,” Lauper said.
In coming out in favor of same-sex “marriage,” Obama may have determined that moderate voters in swing states, including large portions of his base in the black community, will not turn against him on Election Day. Various national public polls show slight but growing majorities in favor of same-sex “marriage,” while other issues, especially the still-stagnant economy, remain top-priority concerns for most Americans.
The Obama administration has also cultivated the homosexual lobby in recent years by repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. The president had also spoken out against a proposed constitutional amendment in North Carolina to grant legal recognition only to marriages between one man and woman. Despite the president’s appeal, voters in the Tar Heel state overwhelmingly passed the measure Tuesday by a margin of 61% to 39%.
North Carolina became the 31st state, and the last Southern state, to pass an act defending marriage. In every state where the question has been put to a popular vote, traditional marriage has won every time. Seven states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex “marriage” through the legislatures or judicial fiat.
In November, voters in Minnesota will decide on a constitutional amendment to defend traditional marriage. In Maine, voters will soon decide whether to rescind a 2009 law that defines marriage only as that of being between a man and a woman.
California voters also banned same-sex “marriage” in 2008 through the Proposition 8 constitutional ballot question, which was later struck down. The battle is still in the appeals stage and is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
In North Carolina, the Dioceses of Raleigh and Charlotte were instrumental in mobilizing support for the recent amendment. The state’s two dioceses each contributed $50,000 to the organizing efforts, and the bishops — via letters, print and online media, TV, radio ads, billboards, yard signs and postcards — urged Catholics to vote for the amendment.
“There was quite a bit of activity from the dioceses and the bishops for this amendment,” said David Hains, director of communications for the Diocese of Charlotte, who told the Register that Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh each appealed to Catholics to defend the timeless understanding of marriage.
“We were talking about an institution that goes back thousands of years,” Hains said.
Bishop Jugis mentioned the amendment drive during his ad limina trip to Rome this week. Bishop Burbidge released a statement after Tuesday’s vote expressing his gratitude for the measure’s passage.
“Passage of the amendment to the constitution of our state has now ensured that the definition of marriage, as the faithful and exclusive union of one man and one woman, and one which is open to the gift of children, is in accord with God’s design and in keeping with the very nature of this sacred vocation,” said Bishop Burbidge, who asked people to join him in praying that the divisions that occurred during the referendum “may be healed by the grace of God.”
Meanwhile, Cardinal Dolan said in his prepared statement Wednesday that the nation’s bishops were prepared to affirm every positive measure taken by Obama to strengthen marriage and the family.
“I pray for the president every day and will continue to pray that he and his administration act justly to uphold and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” the cardinal said. “May we all work to promote and protect marriage and by so doing, serve the true good of all persons.”
Register correspondent Brian Fraga writes from El Paso, Texas.