Obama on Civil Marriage for Gays and Lesbians and His Christian Faith

President Obama discusses his evolving thinking on civil unions and civil marriages, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the difference between state solutions and a federal act, religious liberty, the Black church, college Republicans and gay issues, the Defense Against Marriage Act, and his Christian faith. I highly recommend reading the transcript to get the full texture and context of the President’s comments.

Transcript: Robin Roberts ABC News Interview With President Obama (9 May 2012)

ROBIN ROBERTS: Good to see you, as always–

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good to see you, Robin.

ROBIN ROBERTS: Mr. President. Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about– various issues. And it’s been quite a week and it’s only Wednesday. (LAUGH)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s typical of my week.

ROBIN ROBERTS: I’m sure it is. One of the hot button issues because of things that have been said by members of your administration, same-sex marriage. In fact, your press secretary yesterday said he would leave it to you to discuss your personal views on that. So Mr. President, are you still opposed to same-sex marriage?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well– you know, I have to tell you, as I’ve said, I’ve– I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that– gay and lesbian– Americans should be treated fairly and equally. And that’s why in addition to everything we’ve done in this administration, rolling back Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell– so that– you know, outstanding Americans can serve our country. Whether it’s no longer defending the Defense Against Marriage Act, which– tried to federalize– what is historically been state law.

I’ve stood on the side of broader equality for– the L.G.B.T. community. And I had hesitated on gay marriage– in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient. That that was something that would give people hospital visitation rights and– other– elements that we take for granted. And– I was sensitive to the fact that– for a lot of people, you know, the– the word marriage was something that evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs, and so forth.

But I have to tell you that over the course of– several years, as I talk to friends and family and neighbors. When I think about– members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about– those soldiers or airmen or marines or– sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf– and yet, feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is gone, because– they’re not able to– commit themselves in a marriage.

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. Now– I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized.

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Andrew Wilkes: Evangelicals, Race, and GLBT Issues

LaTona Gunn holds a 2001 photo of her daughter, Sakia Gunn, at her home in Newark. Sakia, 15, was stabbed to death while waiting for the bus in Newark after she and her friends told her attacker they were lesbians.
LaTona Gunn holds a 2001 photo of her daughter, Sakia, 15, who was stabbed to death while waiting for the bus after she and her friends told her attacker they were lesbians.

I really appreciated Andrew Wilkes excellent post today on Sojourners blog on the evil of indifference when it comes to how dominant sexuality Christians relate to gays and lesbians (Ignoble Indifference: Evangelicals, Race, and GLBT Issues).

Andrew worked with Sojourners as a policy and organizing fellow and added his depth and richness to our ministry life. Now he’s back at Princeton Theological Seminary and getting ready to graduate this spring. Andrew is a noble son of the Black church tradition and it gives me hope that our future is carried by him and his compatriots. Here’s an excerpt:

While progressive evangelicals consider color within and beyond the Emergent Church, let us not ignore the stories of our gay and lesbian brethren as if the two issues are completely separate. The two issues ought not be conflated, and yet they are inextricably intertwined.

Far too often, black and brown youth who are gay and lesbian suffer from an unceasing stream of epithets, threats, and violence in the formative years of life. From the ghastly murder of Sakia Gunn, a fifteen-year-old lesbian, to the skull-fracturing beating of Gregory Love at Morehouse, visceral responses to homosexuality have provoked not only dehumanizing discourse but also destructive deeds. Violence against our gay and lesbian brethren — again, many of whom are black and brown — is immoral, illegal, and incompatible with those who follow the Prince of Peace.

Another sin of civil rights storytelling is that many who invoke Martin King ignore Bayard Rustin. And yet, the emergence of Martin King as a nonviolent prophet is unintelligible without brother Rustin — a brilliant organizer, orator, nonviolent strategist, and also a gay man.

Or when Tonex, perhaps the most gifted gospel artist of the past quarter-century, came out, many of his peers publicly threw him under the pews. The not-so-subtle message was twofold: one cannot be explicitly gay and publicly offer praise to God; and secondly — since everyone and their grandmama knows that there are gay gospel artists — one must suffer in silence before God and Church. This message is unhelpful, tacitly encouraging a culture of shame and clandestine sexuality.

Instead, let progressive evangelicals acknowledge that there are Christian arguments for gay marriage, civil unions, and so forth. One may or may not be convinced, but let us be charitable enough to acknowledge that there are Jesus-loving and justice-seeking believers who have theological reasons to account for their sexuality, an open and affirming church, and so forth.

The stone-cold truth, I suspect, is that more than a few progressive evangelicals are indifferent about GLBT issues. By God’s grace, I ashamedly — and yet gratefully — admit that I am slowly being delivered from this apathy.

“There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself … The prophets’ great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. One may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.”–Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, pgs. 110-1

Gracious Triune God of love and justice, deliver us from this ignoble indifference.

Read more on this discussion here. To watch the amazing documentary on the life of Bayard Rustin, see Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. And for more on Sakia Gunn, read here.