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Former President Jimmy Carter: yes to marriage equality; First Lady Michelle Obama inches toward it

It was great to see the former President, a Sunday School teacher who describes himself as “a nuclear physicist by training and a deeply committed Christian,” come out of the ally closet with unequivocal support for marriage equality in an interview with HuffPost’s Senior Religion Editor Paul Brandeis Raushenbush. It is also notable that he decimates the bible-based #waronwomen views that permeate the political landscape these days, and how religious beliefs should not be applied to civil law.

What do you say to those who point to certain scriptures that women should not teach men or speak in church? (1 Corinthians 1:14)

I separated from the Southern Baptists when they adopted the discriminatory attitude towards women, because I believe what Paul taught in Galatians that there is no distinction in God’s eyes between men and women, slaves and masters, Jews and non-Jews -– everybody is created equally in the eyes of God.

There are some things that were said back in those days –- Paul also said that women should not be adorned, fix up their hair, put on cosmetics, and that every woman who goes in a place of worship should have her head covered. Paul also said that men should not cut their beards and advocated against people getting married, except if they couldn’t control their sexual urges. Those kinds of things applied to the customs of those days. Every worshipper has to decide if and when they want those particular passages to apply to them and their lives.

A lot of people point to the Bible for reasons why gay people should not be in the church, or accepted in any way.

Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -– he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.

I draw the line, maybe arbitrarily, in requiring by law that churches must marry people. I’m a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs. So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does by the way, then that is fine. If a church decides not to, then government laws shouldn’t require them to.

Freedom To Marry had this reaction:

“President Carter’s support for the freedom to marry is a real-life example of practicing what you preach.  He has been married for over 65 years and cherishes marriage – and the Golden Rule he has taught in Sunday School for decades says we should treat others as we want to be treated,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage nationwide.  “President Carter understands that the love and commitment of marriage matters to gay and lesbian couples and their loved ones, just as to non-gay couples like Rosalynn and him, and that the law should respect us all.  Ending marriage discrimination helps families, while hurting no one, and that’s why the President, like so many Americans, has opened his heart and changed his mind to join the majority for marriage.”

President Carter joins a swelling number of high-profile political leaders in evolving to support the freedom to marry, including his Democratic successor in the White House, Bill Clinton, and fellow Nobel laureate, Al Gore.

The other newsmaker in this arena is First Lady Michelle Obama, who tiptoed to the line regarding marriage equality in a speech at Chelsea Piers in NYC this week with this statement ripe for parsing:

“Let’s not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices, and for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court,” Ms. Obama said. “But more importantly, let’s not forget the impact their decisions will have on our children’s lives for decades to come — on their privacy and security; on whether they can speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever they choose.  But that is what’s at stake.  That’s the choice that we’re working for.”

Is this a precursor to the President finally publicly “evolving” on same-sex marriage, or is this Michelle Obama giving a skillful, orchestrated kick to the posterior of her husband? Is it a bait-and-switch to supporters of marriage equality to keep the cash flowing into the campaign coffers? It’s hard to say – maybe all of the above. Nothing is unscripted here, so the political gears are turning and it’s up to voters and politicos to try to unpack what this really means.

What I do know is that the First Lady never said anything remotely like this when she was here in NC recently, campaigning for cash; for instance, she studiously avoided talking about Amendment One. The President finally released a statement saying he didn’t support it last Friday.


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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding