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Gay activists in uproar over Warren's role in Obama inauguration
Gay activists in uproar over Warren's role in Obama inauguration
by Daniel Nasaw - Courtesy of The Guardian

Gay civil rights advocates and liberal activists were in an uproar today over news that evangelical pastor Rick Warren is to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration next month.

Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, was an outspoken proponent of a ballot measure to rescind the right of California same-sex couples to wed, and has compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia.

"It is a slap in the face of the Gay community, who are such strong supporters of Barack Obama," said Robin Tyler, a Los Angeles Lesbian activist. Tyler was a plaintiff in the lawsuit that earlier this year led the California Supreme Court to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. Voters rescinded that right on election day, through a ballot question that Warren backed publicly, known as proposition 8.

"If you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support proposition 8," Warren said in an advertisement urging support for it.

John Aravosis, the editor of AmericaBlog, a liberal website, wondered why Obama chose Warren out of all the preachers in the country.

"When a Democrat wins the presidency, I would think we could find at least one preacher who isn't a raving homophobe to give the invocation," Aravosis said. "The Obama people know the loss on that prop 8 was a huge issue for the Gay community. It is an incredibly raw issue, and then you go and pick one of the top guys behind it?"

In an interview on Beliefnet.com after the election, Warren said he is opposed not to same-sex civil unions, but to "the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage".

"I'm opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage," he continued. "I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."

Asked by the interviewer if those are "equivalent to having Gays getting married", Warren responded: "I do."

Obama's Presidential Inaugural Committee did not return a call seeking comment.

While self-identified Gays and Lesbians supported Obama over Republican John McCain 70% to 27%, politically active Gays have quarreled with Obama before. During the primary campaign, gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, who has called homosexuality a curse, spoke at Obama events in South Carolina, leading to charges Obama was thumbing his nose at Gay supporters in order to win over blacks. Obama has also said he opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said Warren's selection "further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans".

Warren held a televised forum with Obama and the Republican candidate, John McCain, ahead of election day, in which he questioned the presidential candidates about religion, moral issues and abortion. Obama told Warren there that he defined marriage as "a union between a man and a woman".

"For me as a Christian, it is a sacred union. God's in the mix," Obama said.

CNN separately reported that on January 7 Obama would attend an unprecedented pre-inauguration lunch with all America's living presidents: Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton and George Bush.
Selected quotes on Warren's selection
"I am very disappointed by President-elect Barack Obama's decision to honor Reverend Rick Warren with a prominent role in his inauguration. Religious leaders obviously have every right to speak out in opposition to anti-discrimination measures, even in the degrading terms that Rev. Warren has used with regard to same-sex marriage. But that does not confer upon them the right to a place of honor in the inauguration ceremony of a president whose stated commitment to LGBT rights won him the strong support of the great majority of those who support that cause.

"It is irrelevant that Rev. Warren invited Senator Obama to address his congregation, since he extended an equal invitation to Senator McCain. Furthermore, the President-elect has not simply invited Rev. Warren to give a speech as part of a series in which various views are presented. The selection of a member of the clergy to occupy this uniquely elevated position has always been considered a mark of respect and approval by those who are being inaugurated."
-Congressman Barney Frank

"Choosing Rick Warren to deliver the invocation may be an olive branch to evangelicals who largely opposed the election of Barack Obama, but it is poison ivy to the Gay and Lesbian voting block who overwhelmingly supported him. Far from an act that will unify, this is a stick in the eye to Lesbian and Gay Americans who played a key part in Obama's victory. For all of Obama's political gifts, he has an odious track record in picking preachers." -Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out

"Let me get right to the point. 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."
-Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign

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