Like other gay Republicans, I have been amused by the brouhaha among gay activists, bloggers, and their allies on the left over President-elect Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren, a proponent of Proposition 8 which bars the state of California from recognizing same-sex marriages, to offer the invocation at his inauguration.
Unlike some of my ideological confrères, I don’t see this as a sign that he has thrown his gay supporters under the bus.
Gay activists, however, are up in arms. In a statement responding to Obama’s selection of Warren, Darrel Cummings, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center chief of staff, contended:
If President-elect Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to give his inaugural invocation is intended to send a message to America that he will be an inclusive leader, then he has clearly made a decision that the exclusion of the LGBT community is acceptable.
Excluding gay people? Hardly.
Immediately following Obama’s swearing-in, the Lesbian and Gay Band Alliance (LGBA) will be the “first ever gay contingent” to march in a presidential inaugural parade. To be sure, the invocation is a much more significant than participation in the festivities following the official ceremony, but that inclusion does undercut the argument that the inclusion of Warren means the president-elect has excluded gays.
The presence of that band won’t mollify some on the left. Writing in the Nation, Sarah Posner offers a similar assessment:
Obama’s religious outreach was intended, supposedly, to make religious voters more comfortable with him and feel included in the Democratic Party. But that outreach now has come at the expense of other people’s comfort and inclusion, at an event meant to mark a turning point away from divisive politics.
In a letter to the president-elect, Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization,” concurs:
Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans. Our loss in California over the passage of Proposition 8 which stripped loving, committed same-sex couples of their given legal right to marry is the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years. And by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans have a place at your table.
So, the inclusion of one man in the inaugural ceremonies who opposes gay marriage must necessarily mean the exclusion of gay people altogether?
Yet, it seems that it is not the president-elect, but his critics from the gay left who are fostering that division. They are objecting to the prominent presence in the inaugural program of a pastor with whom they have a profound disagreement on one key issue: gay marriage. As if that disagreement alone should disqualify him from speaking. I guess they want an ideological litmus test for inaugural participants.
Even Obama acknowledges his differences with Warren. Last week, he pointed out that during the campaign he had spoken at Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County despite it holding “views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights.” The president-elect noted further that Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a man with “deeply contrasting views to Warren on a whole host of issues,” will offer the closing benediction at the inauguration.
But, Lowery’s presence won’t quell the anger of gay activists, bloggers, and their allies on the left); they don’t just see Warren as offering a different perspective on a controversial issue. They believe his position on that issue defines him a hate–monger who harbors “an anti-gay agenda.”
By so defining Warren, they paint gay marriage opponents with a broad brush, assuming that anyone who opposes same-sex marriage does so out of animosity toward gay people.
Warren, however, has made clear that he opposes same-sex marriage not because he hates gay people, but because of the longstanding definition of this ancient institution: “For 5,000 years, every single culture, every single religion has defined marriage has defined marriage as a man and a woman, not just Christianity, [but also] Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism.”
And while Warren’s opposition to gay marriage has earned him the ire of angry gay activists, his support of certain “partnership benefits” for same-sex couples has upset some social conservatives. Warren’s record on gay issues may not be perfect, but he is anything but a hater.
Unlike other social conservatives, Warren hasn’t made animosity to homosexuals central to his ministry. He has reached out and listened to gay people. He has distinguished himself on gay issues primarily by his public opposition to same-sex marriage, a position he shares with the president-elect. Yet, that has not been his focus. Far from it.
It’s unfortunate that some gay activists (and their allies on the left) have let their disagreement with the prominent pastor on this one issue color their reaction to the president-elect’s choice. To be sure, had Warren expressed his support of Proposition 8 in the hateful tones of some of the proposition’s proponents, these activists would have a point.
But, in coming out against gay marriage, Warren didn’t attack gay people. He merely expressed his belief that gender difference was a defining aspect of the institution.
Given the civil nature with which Warren has expressed this view, activists’ opposition to the president-elect’s choice marks them the more intolerant party in this controversy. It shows how all too many of them readily label any opposition to gay marriage as bigoted, hateful, or otherwise anti-gay. Moreover, their claim that the inclusion of Warren means the exclusion of gay people is belied by the inclusion of the gay band in the inaugural parade.
Obama has acquitted himself quite well on this issue. He has reached across the aisle to tap a man with whom he disagrees on numerous issues to play a prominent role in his inaugural. In so doing, he offended part of his base. And he has refused to back down in the face of criticism from some of his staunchest supporters.
I might disagree with Obama’s choice of pastor to deliver the invocation at his inaugural, but I believe he has handled the situation as should a national leader. He didn’t seek to deliberately offend his supporters, but instead to appeal to his opponents.
A nice touch at the ceremony marking his ascension to the highest office in the land.