CONCORD, N.H. -- The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president on Thursday, even though they don't share the same views on issues critical to gays and lesbians.
"Frankly, I don't think there's any major candidate that is where we in the gay community would hope they would be on our issues," V. Gene Robinson said in a conference call with reporters. "That being said, I would say the senator has been enormously supportive of our issues. We appreciate his support for civil unions."
The continuing repercussions from Robinson's 2003 election as bishop of New Hampshire threaten to break up the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is part. His supporters hail him as a role model and civil rights pioneer.
He stressed that his endorsement was as an individual, not as bishop.
"I will not be speaking about the campaign from the pulpit or at any church function," he said. "That is completely inappropriate. But as a private citizen, I will be at campaign events and help in any way that I can."
Robinson said he hopes to persuade Obama to embrace marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Obama supports civil unions and rights for gay couples, but stops short of supporting gay marriage.
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The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy of The Interfaith Alliance issued a press release critical of the endorsment:
Today's endorsement of Senator Barack Obama's campaign for president by Bishop Gene Robinson is just the latest example of candidates misusing religious leaders for political gain. Over the last year we have seen many, if not all, of the presidential candidates set up websites promoting endorsements by religious leaders. While endorsements like today's raise the possibility of legal action against religious leaders, our concerns are rooted more in the impact on the sanctity of religion and the integrity of government.
I encourage candidates to talk about the proper role of religion in public life, and I strongly defend the right of religious leaders to speak out about the important issues we are facing in the world today. However, when candidates turn religious leaders into political tools, they have crossed a line.