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Tickling the dragon's tail: Obama and the religious right
Tickling the dragon's tail: Obama and the religious right
by Patricia Nell Warren - Special to the SGN

Barack Obama is full of surprises, and nowhere more than on the subject of LGBT rights. In March, when we were all focused on the Prop 8 court decision, the president hit us with a big surprise when the White House announced that the U.S. would join 65 other countries in supporting the UN declaration calling for global decriminalization of homosexuality. In so doing, he reversed George Bush's obstinate and shameful policy of refusing to support this declaration - Bush putting our country in the company of 70 other non-democratic countries that outlaw us and, in some cases, punish us with the death penalty.

Abroad, reaction to the U.S. move was positive in many countries, with the International Gay and Lesbian Association lauding it. But here in the U.S., the religious right were not happy about Obama's move, with Focus on the Family declaring that they are very "disappointed" in him.

The thing that worries me about Obama is the degree to which he is being pressured by the religious right & and the degree to which he is courting them back. While I don't doubt the toughness that our new president has shown in a lot of situations, there is always the possibility that he will be maneuvered into backtracking on our issues, little by little. Standing up to Wall Street is one thing. Standing up to purveyors of churchism when you're a churchgoer yourself is another thing. The righters got their foot in the door during the inauguration with the prayer by Rick Warren, but now they must push for bigger incursions than a few words at a microphone.

The Obama administration clearly feels that they have to placate the religious right. Take the March 24 meeting that just took place at the White House between Christian evangelical leaders and Joshua Du Bois, head of Obama's Faith-Based Office. The righters included representatives of the Christian Medical Association, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America. Obama actually took the initiative to invite them in order to discuss abortion policy in the U.S.

Now if "including" the Bible-izers isn't deliberately tickling the dragon's tail, I don't know what is. As a Washington Monthly commentator pointed out, "Imagine George W. Bush aides agreeing to meet with representatives of the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and People for the American Way, to discuss culture war issues. If that sounds like a ridiculous scenario, then you can appreciate why this meeting between Obama's faith-based guy and leading activists from the religious right is unusual."

The March 24 meeting got very little notice in the mainstream media, although right-wing and evangelical media all did copious reports that it was going to happen. But all in all, when you look at the super-high profile of - and the endless nitpicking at - almost everything else that Obama has done so far, there has been a curious "top secret" air around this particular event. As I write this, I can't find any news reports on the web regarding what actually happened there. Supposedly Obama's purpose was to be "inclusive" and discuss how to decrease the number of abortions in the U.S. every year. But it's not much of a stretch from "decreasing abortions" to "banning abortions," since that's what the religious right really want.

Once the extremists have their foot in the door, and concessions are made, other concessions will be demanded, and that will surely include Obama's positions on LGBT rights. The dragon's tail is big, and very long. The religious right have endless amounts of money to lobby with, and an iron patience that comes from believing that their religion goes back for 2,000 years.

Over the last 20 years, I watched President Clinton and growing numbers of Democrats starting to pander to the evangelical vote, instead of sticking to the human-rights guns that Democrats supposedly stand for. Now, with a staunchly churchgoing Democrat in the White House, I'm just a little concerned at how President Obama will stand up to these same kinds of pressures over the long haul of his four years in office, if that dragon tail comes swinging around to smack him.

Copyright © by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved. Patricia Nell Warren, author of the bestselling sports novel The Front Runner, also writes commentary for the Huffington Post, the Bilerico Project and numerous LGBT print publications. Her newest book is The Lavender Locker Room, a collection of profiles on LGBT sports greats throughout Western history. Her website can be found at www.patricianellwarren.com.

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