CNN's Lemon Bemoans People 'Injecting' Religion Into Marriage Debate

CNN's Don Lemon said last year that he hoped to "change minds" when he declared that he was gay. And on Sunday evening he showed exactly where he lies on same-sex marriage and in no small words challenged the fundamental beliefs of its opponents, comparing them to those who opposed interracial marriage and integration.

He later compared Mitt Romney to segregationist Governor George Wallace, but during the 6 p.m. hour Lemon hosted activist Rev. Joseph Lowery – who also gave the benediction at President Obama's inauguration – and both of them criticized opponents of same-sex marriage.

"When I think about what some people, and I hear what some folks are saying about this issue, I wonder if in 10 or 20 years when those sound bites are played back to them if they're going to cringe and want to go and hide somewhere," Lemon said of opponents of same-sex marriage. "Because it's like interracial marriage. It's like integration."

Lemon bemoaned that he didn't understand why people are "injecting religion into an issue that has to do with rights."

"The truth of the matter is that when you think about it, you can't be for equal rights for some," said Lowery, "and not equal rights for all. That's an oxymoron."

And the two offered some commentary on Biblical teaching and Christianity. Lemon teed up the pastor to shoot down opposition to same-sex marriage. "And Jesus never mentioned the whole issue of gay and so forth. And it was prevalent in his time. He didn't mention it," Lowery insisted.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 13 on Newsroom at 6:05 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

[6:05]

DON LEMON: Let's go to our special guest right now. A legend of the civil rights movement, a man who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Joseph Lowery joins me right now. You hear – you heard what Athena Jones,  her report there – you hear what Reince Priebus said, he said this is not about civil rights. What do you say to that?

REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, civil rights activist: Well, it is about civil rights.

LEMON: But equal right?

LOWERY: And equal rights. You can't – you can marry without the church.

LEMON: Right.

LOWERY: You can marry without religion, and the ritual. Of course within the context of the faith, we do marry but it's a civil issue. And you can marry and divorce without the church (Inaudible) in the context of the civil law and the rule of law. The truth of the matter is that when you think about it, you can't be for equal rights for some.

LEMON: And not for all.

LOWERY: – and not equal rights for all. That's an oxymoron.

LEMON: I don't understand why people don't get that and why people keep – and this is just me asking, injecting religion into an issue that has to do with rights. Because here's what I said, when you go to – I know marriage is a legal contract. People don't issue licenses for baptisms or for bar mitzvahs or for -- and in many things that – you know, that have – or whatever. Things that happen in the church, people don't issue a license for it and it's not governed, that's not governed by the government and then other things are not governed by the church. So what's --

LOWERY: Well, I think –

LEMON: What's the disconnect?

LOWERY: – to start with, I can't imagine the people who are even now who are concerned, letting anybody tell them who they should, could or would not marry.

LEMON: Right.

LOWERY: They're going to make that decision in their own mind and in their own heart. And we have to – we have to take that perspective. It takes – it is an evolving issue. The President said it evolved. And it isn't -- I remember when black people were very upset when we put football games on Sunday.

LEMON: Yeah.

(Laughter)

LOWERY: Now they can't wait until the benedictions to get out to the field or to the golf course or wherever they want to go to take advantage of recreational opportunity.

LEMON: While we have this little moment of levity here, let me ask you this. When you said now they can't wait, they used to be very upset about that. When I think about what some people, and I hear what some folks are saying about this issue, I wonder if in 10 or 20 years when those sound bites are played back to them if they're going to cringe and want to go and hide somewhere. Because it's like interracial marriage. It's like integration. Sure, some people are still against it but you wouldn't dare make a statement against it, at least publicly in these days –

(...)

LEMON: You are a minister. You know the Bible. You know the church. You know black folks. "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. It's an abomination. Leviticus says this, Romans says that."

LOWERY: Well, you remember this, that Leviticus is almost by himself over that. And Jesus never mentioned the whole issue of gay and so forth. And it was prevalent in his time. He didn't mention it. We've got to accept the fact that there are differences that are inevitable and they're going to be there and we have to accept it. But we must not let those differences, whether it's color of skin, or ethnicity or where you're born, we must not let them interfere with our rights.

LEMON: Back in October when I – you know, when you had your illustrious birthday, right, I asked you about this issue and you said that you were for same-sex marriage then. You said it first. You think it would have been easier if it was civil unions, but you can't tell someone that they shouldn't have the same rights as you.

You also said to me the Bible says a lot of things about a lot of things and there were other things in the Bible that people don't put as much weight on. And they -- they pick and choose things that they want to.

LOWERY: But I don't see as much concern about adultery, which the Bible speaks against much more often than the issue of sex or homosexuality. And besides, there's some place in the Bible, some guy named Paul says slaves, obey your master. I'm sorry, but I'm not ever going to get in a court with that one. And I want to tell him what I'll do before I obey. And so we've got to understand that there is room in the Bible to accept the spirit of Christ.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014