Barack Obama and John McCain on Abortion and Gay Marriage

The culture wars are back this presidential election.

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For much of the summer, the culture wars seemed dormant, if not completely over. Neither candidate was talking much about divisive issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. Barack Obama was playing down his support for abortion rights and searching for common ground with conservative voters. John McCain, an opponent of abortion rights, didn't appear comfortable bringing up the old "wedge" issues to rally the Republican base.

Turning point. The truce didn't last. In mid-August, at the Saddleback Forum, the Rev. Rick Warren pressed both candidates on abortion and marriage. McCain, appearing at ease with the subject, promised to have a "pro-life presidency" that would "have pro-life policies." Obama demurred when asked when life begins, saying the matter was "above my pay grade." Evangelical voters were suddenly energized behind McCain. A week later, McCain attacked Obama for his response in a blistering radio address, accusing him of being extreme on abortion. When McCain chose Sarah Palin, an evangelical Christian who has said abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest, as his running mate, it was clear: The culture wars were back.

Where McCain stands. A strong opponent of abortion rights, McCain has said Roe v. Wade "should be overturned." McCain believes abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest and to protect the life, but not the health, of the mother. He supports state-level initiatives to ban gay marriage this fall in California and Arizona.

Where Obama stands. Obama is a supporter of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. On marriage, Obama has said same-sex couples should be able to enter into civil unions with all the legal benefits of marriage, but he believes "marriage" should refer to the union of a man and a woman.

Bottom line. They both oppose same-sex marriage, butMcCain and Obama could not be further apart when it comes to abortion. McCain promises to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will try to overturn Roe v. Wade. Obama has said he will select judges who support a woman's right to choose.