Obama, Churches Heat Up Iowa Gay 'Marriage' Debate

Presidential candidate Barack Obama was grilled on his gay "marriage" stance in Iowa on Monday, a day after he featured an ex-gay Christian artist and openly gay pastor during a gospel music tour.

During a live presidential dialogue presented by MTV and MySpace at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, the Illinois Senator repeated his support for civil unions that offer the same benefits to same-sex couples as traditional marriage but stood against gay "marriage."

"You want the word marriage and I believe that the issue of marriage has become so entangled – the word marriage has become so entangled with religion – that it makes more sense for me as president, with that authority, to talk about the civil rights that are conferred" with civil unions, said Obama, according to The Des Moines Register.

Individual denominations should make the decisions about what to recognize as a marriage, he added.

The forum came after Obama invited a controversial singer – Grammy award-winning Donnie McClurkin – to his three-city Gospel concert, "Embrace the Change! Gospel Series," in South Carolina.

McClurkin, who said he was gay for nearly 20 years but was "cured" through prayers, was criticized for his view that homosexuality is a choice. Gay-rights activists demanded Obama cancel the gospel singer's appearance on Sunday. The presidential candidate, however, did not remove McClurkin, but instead added an openly gay South Carolina pastor to the gospel concert while expressing his commitment to gay rights.

"Part of my job as president, I think, is to deliver a message that everybody is part of the American family," he said during Monday's dialogue. "Not just some people."

Obama's appearance in Iowa comes in the wake of protest by evangelical and Catholic churches against a judge's recent ruling that overturned the state's ban on gay "marriage."

About 1,200 people from local churches held a prayer rally Sunday at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church.

"This is more than a political battle," said the Rev. Keith A. Ratliff Sr. of the Baptist church, according to the local newspaper. "This is a spiritual battle."

Polk County District Judge Robert Hanson ruled on Aug. 31 that the state's 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which reads "only a marriage between a male and a female is valid," was unconstitutional and ordered the Polk County recorder to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil "marriages."

Hanson stayed his ruling the next day while the case is appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court. One same-sex couple was able to "marry" before Hanson suspended his ruling.

A final ruling could take up to two years.

Republican legislative leaders, in the meantime, have renewed their call for a marriage amendment, according to the local Register. Debate is expected over whether the 2008 Legislature should begin drafting a constitutional amendment that defines marriage between a man and a woman.