Will Same-Sex Marriage Rile Faith Leaders?

President Obama says he supports same-sex marriage, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to come out in favor of the issue. Host Michel Martin looks at what it means for the November elections, and for an issue that many Americans view in religious or moral terms. Martin speaks with two religion reporters: Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches and David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up we will hear from the Democratic candidate who will face off against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in June's closely watched recall election. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett joins us in just a few minutes.

But first we turn to the always emotional, often explosive, issue of same sex marriage. In a move that came as a shock to many people, President Obama announced yesterday that he supports - that he personally supports gay marriage - in an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts. Here's a clip from the full interview that aired this morning on "Good Morning America."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

MARTIN: Although many people have long suspected that the president has been sympathetic to same sex marriage he has said in the past that he supports civil rights for same gender loving couples but he said that his views on marriage are evolving. But that unequivocal declaration puts President Obama at odds with the presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. This is a clip from Romney's Wednesday afternoon interview on KDVR TV in Denver. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

MITT ROMNEY: I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender and I don't favor civil unions if they're identical to marriage other than by name.

MARTIN: That discussion, along with North Carolina's vote on Tuesday to ban same sex unions in the state constitution, has put the issue back on the top of the political agenda. And it also turns a spotlight on the role faith might be playing in the presidential race. So we wanted to talk about this with two journalists who cover the intersection of faith and politics. Sarah Posner is the senior editor of Religion Dispatches. That is an online publication that covers religion, politics, and culture from a progressive perspective.

She's also the author of "God's Prophets: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters." Also with us, once again, David Brody. He is the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network that was founded of course by the conservative evangelical leader, the Reverend Pat Robertson. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Tea-vangelicals: the Inside Story of How Evangelicals, the Tea Party, and Presidential Contenders Are Trying to Take Back America."

Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us once again.

SARAH POSNER: Thanks for having us, Michel.

DAVID BRODY: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Sarah, I'm going to start with you. Why now? Why do you think the president made this announcement now?

POSNER: Well, I think that it was becoming evident that he needed to do something. He was being boxed in by his own position of saying that he was evolving, yet all around him other Democrats, including his own vice president, were saying that they were for same sex marriage.

And to continue to say that he was opposed to it in the face of public opinion, and even in the face of elite opinion, was making him look behind the curve.

MARTIN: Dave, I want to ask you about why, as well. And I also want to mention in your column about this you said this comes as no surprise. I'm quoting you here. You say that "the fact that the president's views were "evolving" - and you had that in quotes - "on this for a couple years simply was code for let me figure out when best to drop the bombshell."

"When Vice President Biden seemed to take care of the timing on all that with his appearance on Meet the Press this past Sunday, watching Jay Carney - that's his press secretary - duck incoming fire didn't help."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BRODY: Mm-hmm. Right.

MARTIN: That your usual style. But, you know, what about Sarah's points - is that Pew research polls, for example, from this year say that even a majority of independents are in favor of same sex marriage. So.

BRODY: Yeah. I mean I think we have to wait to see how this plays out. I mean, 57 percent, I think, of independents favor same sex marriage. If you go deep inside those polls, though, a lot of those rural counties as it relates to independents, don't agree with same sex marriage whatsoever. I mean, so I think we wait and see how this plays out.

As for the timing of all of this, I totally agree with Sarah and just to say that, look, did the president want to announce this on a Wednesday by calling Robin Roberts over to the White House to make this announcement? No, of course not. You know, this was relatively bungled but done as best possible under the circumstances.

MARTIN: Why was it bungled? Bungled how? You mean you think he was boxed in? He was, in fact, boxed in Vice President Biden? Because some are saying that, in fact, that he was in fact testing the waters. It's kind of like sending up the trial balloon.

BRODY: Yeah. It was becoming a negative media story for the president. Jay Carney, really looking like he was dodging bullets, there, in the White House briefing room. The vice president, as I like to say, stepped in it, as we shall say, on Sunday. Not the first time, I might say that he did that. So, I mean, it just was not there to tee up properly and it seemed a little like a rush job.

MARTIN: What is changed by this, David?

BRODY: Well, I think we're going to find out, but I think what's going to happen is you're going to see a looser electoral map now. In other words, how to get to 270 electoral votes in 2012? All of a sudden, a lot of red states, typical red states that Obama won in 2008 - North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia, Iowa, I can go on...

MARTIN: But tell me why you think that.

BRODY: But those states, because they will typically lean a little bit more red. They're purple states but they are, kind of, red-leaning, at least in the past. All of a sudden, that opens it up for Mitt Romney to do much better in those states than previously, potentially. So we'll see. I mean...

MARTIN: But why do you think that, given that everybody says - that people are saying that the economy is number one? I mean clearly socially conservative voters preferred other Republican nominees like Rick Santorum, but in the end of the day it went to Mitt Romney because I think the consensus was that people figured the economy was the issue and he was the best candidate on that issue.

BRODY: Well, I think the demographics - it depends on each state but, I mean, for example, there's going to be problems, and we'll maybe talk about it, within the black community. Obviously, that's going to be an issue. Not to mention some of the rural counties. And quite frankly, if you look within the independent polling, you will not just see it just be 57 percent of independents approve of same sex marriage.

Actually, if you look at that socially conservative independent vote, which is what President Obama needs in places like Pennsylvania and others, that has been a problem for him in the past and it could be even more of problem in the future.

MARTIN: We're talking about President Obama's announcement that he personally supports same sex marriage. We're talking with people who spent a lot of time thinking about and writing about the intersection of faith and politics. David Brody is with the Christian Broadcasting Network. That's who was speaking just now. Sarah Posner's also with us, of Religion Dispatches.

So Sarah, what about David's point two key portions of the president's constituency, the progressive coalition, if you want to call it that.

POSNER: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: African-Americans and Latinos, otherwise strong supporters of the president.

POSNER: Right.

MARTIN: But on this issue there tends to be at variance, with the perspective of other people within the progressive coalition. They tend to be much more skeptical of same sex marriage than white liberals are.

POSNER: Right. Well, a couple of things on that. One is the demographics on that are changing. When you look at the viewpoint of millennial African-Americans and millennial Latinos on same sex marriage, they're much more in favor of it than their elders are. The second is how much this statement that Obama made yesterday will actually impact their vote when they're looking at Obama versus Romney and issues of the economy, or foreign policy, or the other - unemployment, other things that might be mattering to them right now.

Are they really going to change their vote based exclusively on Obama's stated position on same sex marriage? And I think there's not a lot of evidence that that's the case. And I also think that once people start to realize what the strategy has been of the conservative Christian organizations who are opposed to same sex marriage, the recent revelation that the National Organization for Marriage had a strategy of trying to drive a wedge between Democrats and Latino and African-American supporters over this issue, that might give them pause about the motivation of the anti same sex marriage movement if they think that they're being used to drive a wedge between their community and the Democratic party.

MARTIN: David?

BRODY: Well, let me just make a couple points. First of all, I think this could actually, really, very much, not just energize the president's base, but he really needs those younger under 30, those millennials, to turn out. And so clearly this has political benefit. It obviously has a lot of political risk as well.

But the truth of the matter is that the problem here, and this is why I think Obama - the advantage is with Obama on this, is because candidate Romney isn't the type of candidate that's going to really make this an issue. I mean, he wants to run away from this issue. I mean, look what happened today. There's - Their press people put out this, you know, what's going on in the world today in Romneyland, and not same sex marriage and the president's announcement wasn't mentioned at all.

President Romney - not exactly.

MARTIN: Presumptive Republican nominee.

BRODY: I've been reading too many Republican talking points, I think. But candidate Romney does not want to touch this issue. And because he doesn't want to touch this issue, I think it makes much harder to, basically, get some political hay out of this in many of these swing states.

MARTIN: Well, what about the fact that - you've also written about the fact that a presumptive GOP nominee is speaking at Liberty University...

BRODY: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...this Saturday. He's offering an address there. You felt that this was an important sign. Tell us why.

BRODY: Sure. And I'll...

MARTIN: Will he talk about it there?

BRODY: Well, talk about what? It depends.

MARTIN: Gay marriage.

BRODY: No. I don't anticipate that to be, at all, brought up. And, once again, why won't it be brought up? Because Romney is a Mr. Fix-It, the economy, the economy, the economy. It's all he wants to talk about. And so he doesn't want to get down into the social issues and so that's the reason he won't do that there. But, at Liberty University, real quick - no. I mean, he's going to talk about the budget and immorality and he's going to appeal to Evangelicals from an economic standpoint.

MARTIN: So a final thought I wanted to ask you about. The president - in his "Good Morning America" interview, the president said that his faith brought him to this decision, but he also previously cited his faith - when he talked about his support for traditional marriage and why he wasn't really ready to go all the way there.

POSNER: Right, right.

MARTIN: I just wanted to ask - what do you think it means for the president to invoke his faith when expressing support for same-sex marriage?

POSNER: Well, I think it's a very important moment for the president, politically, in terms of how he relates his faith to his policies and also in terms of how, politically - how he has tried to reach religious voters.

During the '08 campaign and throughout most of his first term, he has employed this conservative religious rhetoric about traditional marriage and marriage being between one man and one woman and resorting to that sort of talking point, instead of the sort of talking point that he used yesterday, which was about the golden rule and everybody being treated equally.

And so I think that that's a very important message, considering that he has, in the past, not really reached out to religious leaders who are pro-gay marriage and has tended to try to make public appearances with people like Rick Warren or Joe Hunter, who are opposed to same-sex marriage. So I think it's an important - politically, an important message that he's trying to send with regard to his faith outreach and his faith alliances.

MARTIN: Sarah Posner is the senior editor of Religion Dispatches. That's an online publication that covers religion, politics and culture from a progressive perspective. Also with us, David Brody. He is the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network that was founded by the Evangelical leader, the Reverend Pat Robertson and author of a forthcoming book called "The Tvangelicals."

Thank you both so much for joining us here in our studios...

POSNER: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: ...D.C.

BRODY: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: And we're going to continue this conversation tomorrow by taking a closer look at how President Obama's announcement will affect the black community.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Coming up, there are a number of ways to say, I love you, mom this Mother's Day, but if you've already done the flowers, brunch and perfume thing, how about taking a cue from Mexico and hiring a mariachi band?

DAN SHEEHY: So they're mariachis, you hire them for an hour. They show up at Mom's house and play the songs that they want to hear.

MARTIN: More about this special Mother's Day gift. That's ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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