President Obama’s decision to embrace gay marriage has ignited a conversation that extends far beyond the campaign trail, as some pastors took on the issue from the pulpit on Sunday, while activists on each side are debating it on cable television and social media.
The issue has cut across traditional political alliances. Professor Michael Eric Dyson, who is also an MSNBC contributor, blasted African-Americans and fellow Obama backers who are opposed to gay marriage, calling them “sexual rednecks” who were “on the wrong side of history” and “getting God to co-sign your bigotry.”
At the same time, some black pastors and religious leaders who have strongly supported Obama in the past were forced to grapple with a rare disagreement.
Bishop Timothy Clark, head of the First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, told USA Today he felt that he had to address the controversy in part because members of his congregation were calling and e-mailing to learn his view. In services since Obama’s announcement, Clark has repeated his position that marriage is between a man and a woman, but steered clear of attacking Obama.
Clark, according to USA Today, asked his church “to pray for the president and pray this will not become a political football with uncivil language and heated rhetoric. We can disagree on this, as we do on many things, and still love each other.”
Andre Allie, a deacon at his Baptist church in Youngtown, Ohio told the Associated Press, Obama is “just wrong” on gay marriage. But he added that he still supports the president because, “the world is bigger than gay marriage.”
African-Americans are of course not the only people conflicted about this issue. One of Obama’s spiritual advisers, Florida pastor Joel Hunter, has publicly expressed his disagreement with the president’s stance. Some younger Republicans support gay marriage and disagree with Mitt Romney’s opposition to it.
What’s not clear is the immediate political impact. For example, in an extensive report from Ohio, a key electoral state, the Associated Press found many voters grappling with gay marriage and Obama, but it did not seem to flip many of them to either supporting or opposing the president.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr