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Two questions, four answers from Barack Obama

March 2, 2008 | 12:03 pm

NELSONVILLE, Ohio -- Memo to presidential candidates: Beware of voters asking double-barreled questions.

Barack Obama got a double dose while campaigning in Ohio this weekend.

The first such query came in the Cleveland suburb of Parma Heights Saturday night at the very end of a lengthy town hall meeting: “My question is about immigration and gay marriage,” stated one young woman. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Are those questions connected?” responded a slightly incredulous Obama. “Gay immigrants? Thank you for those two easy questions.”

Then the Illinois senator launched into a two-pronged answer ...

before deciding that there really is a connection, that it’s not pretty, and  that the Bush administration is to blame.

“Part of what has happened in our politics over the last several years, and this administration has been an expert in it, is making you afraid of each other,” he said to loud cheers.

“So they make you afraid of people who don’t look like you or don’t talk like you or don’t live in the same neighborhoods as you,” he continued. “That kind of divisiveness in politics has to come to an end. We can’t solve our problems with that kind of politics.”

On Sunday in the Appalachian town of Nelsonville, Ohio, where plant closures and the mortgage crisis are rippling through the economy, Pastor Leon Forte aimed his own double barrels at Obama, asking the candidate to explain (a) what he would do about the foreclosure crisis and (b) his faith.

“Your campaign sets a quandary for most evangelical Christians,” Forte, who heads up Grace Christian Center in Athens, Ohio, told Obama. “They believe in the social agenda that you have. They have a problem with what the conservatives have laid out as the moral litmus test about who is worthy and who is not.”

Obama tackled the easy part first -– how to clean up after the burst housing bubble and help struggling Americans keep their homes.

Then he talked about Jesus Christ and his own controversial minister, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. (who has praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan), along with same-sex marriage and abortion.

“I am a Christian,” Obama responded in low tones. “I am a devout Christian. I’ve been a member of the same church for 20 years. I pray to Jesus every night and try to go to church as much as I can.”

OK, so these days those hard pews have dug into his back a lot less than usual, considering “I haven’t been home on Sunday for several months now.”

Still, he said, “my faith is important to me. It’s not something that I try to push on other people. But it’s something that helps to guide my life and my values.”

While Obama said he does not believe in same-sex marriage, he argued strongly for civil unions that allow same-sex couples to visit each other in the hospital, let them transfer property to each other and protect them from discrimination. “If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which, I think, is, in my mind, more central than an obscure passage in Romans,” Obama said.

That likely would be “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” over “Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves due penalty for their perversion.”

Obama described abortion Sunday as “always a tragic and painful issue” and said that those who support a woman’s right to choose have “made some mistakes … by not focusing on the fact that there is a real moral element to this.”

But he also emphasized that women do not make decisions about their bodies casually and that it is important to make sure “that young people are engaging in responsible behavior and that we are encouraging the kinds of good decisions that prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

In the end, though, he said “women in consultation with their  pastors and their doctors and their family are in a better position to make these decisions than some bureaucrat in Washington. “

Sure, there are those who would disagree, and Obama said he respects their opinions -- “but I certainly don’t think it makes me less Christian.”

-- Maria L. LaGanga

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