President Barack Obama sparked one of the fiercest controversies in our nation’s recent history when he said that he personally supports same-sex marriage. He could have stayed silent on the issue until after the presidential election in November but it is a measure of his character that he was obviously aware of the political risks and still let the people know where his heart lies on a topic that has long since divided Americans.

Whatever you would say about his stand, there is no disputing the fact that it was a courageous one and this is a time in our nation’s history when candor is in very short supply.

That having been said, there is also no disputing the fact that many Americans will always hold to the belief that the institution of marriage is meant for a man and a woman. Nothing that Mr. Obama or anyone else could have said would change their minds. And it is doubtful that he intended that to happen. What he most likely intended was for Americans to come to grips with what some regard as one of the last barriers to personal freedom and civil liberties in our country, while others believe that same-sex marriage is neither a civil right nor scripturally permissible.

Mr. Obama’s support of same-sex marriage gives it the weight of a presidential endorsement but this is not a dictatorship and the president’s statement was not an official edict. The trappings of the law still surround the institution of marriage and scrapping those laws is not a matter in the hands of the president.

But his comment from the conscience has had the expected effect of intensifying the debate about homosexuality and religion and homosexuality and American democracy.

In that debate, those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds should remember that tolerance of others is a hallmark of all faiths. The founders of the great religions knew that human beings come in many versions but are still children of God. It is the purpose of religion to teach a way to achieve nearness to God, not to shun those who look different from us, behave differently from us and are guided by their own social imperatives. We may reject the act but must love the person.

The purpose of the institution of marriage has been to enshrine in society the family as the nucleus through the union of a man with a woman as dictated by scripture.

When it comes to our democracy, and the general perspective of our voters, the presidency is viewed in a context that extends beyond any single issue. The life challenges and opportunities that most African Americans encounter require that we choose a president whose global perspectives resonate with our people and our nation. We honor Mr. Obama as a man of great courage and character and while we disagree with his position on same-sex marriage, we support him as our President.


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