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Obama's Inaugural Mistake

Then-Sen. Barack Obama and the Rev. Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in August.
Then-Sen. Barack Obama and the Rev. Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in August. (By Richard Vogel -- Associated Press)
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By Joe Solmonese
Friday, December 19, 2008; Page A35

It is difficult to comprehend how our president-elect, who has been so spot on in nearly every political move and gesture, could fail to grasp the symbolism of inviting an anti-gay theologian to deliver his inaugural invocation. And the Obama campaign's response to the anger about this decision? Hey, we're also bringing a gay marching band. You know how the gays love a parade.

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Yes, the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of the humongous, evangelical Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., has a sound message on poverty. And certainly, in the world of politics, there is a view that Barack Obama owes Warren for bringing him before fellow evangelicals, despite fierce opposition during the heat of the presidential campaign.

But here's the other thing about Warren, the author of the bestselling book "The Purpose Driven Life": He was a general in the campaign to pass California's Proposition 8, which dissolved the legal marriage rights of loving, committed same-sex couples.

For that reason, inviting Warren to set the tone at the dawn of this new presidency sends a chilling message to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. It makes us uncertain about this exciting, young president-elect who has said repeatedly that we are part of his America, too.

We understand that the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights icon and a dear friend of LGBT Americans, will close the inauguration ceremony. But would any inaugural committee say to Jewish Americans, "We're opening with an anti-Semite but closing the program with a rabbi, so don't worry"?

It is likely that one of two scenarios played out during behind-the-scenes inaugural planning, both of them equally troubling. The first possibility is that it was suggested that Warren is the correct voice to lead the inauguration because his selection would send a message of inclusion to evangelicals. And when someone at the table said, "Gay America will be offended by that choice," the quick answer was, "That's fine, we'll deal with it. We invited the gay marching band."

The second possibility is that no one at the table had a clue about Warren's anti-gay views and that the Obama team has been stunned by the broad and loud objections to the choice. That's not encouraging, either.

What the Obama team needs to understand is that for many LGBT Americans, this November was bittersweet. We were thrilled with Obama's victory and, in fact, many of us worked the phones, pounded the pavement and wrote checks to make that happen. But the next day, we learned that Proposition 8 passed in California, and our hearts sank. It was the biggest loss our community has faced in decades.

One of the biggest reasons for that hurtful outcome was the Rev. Rick Warren, who publicly endorsed Proposition 8 in late October. He told his parishioners and reporters alike that "any pastor could be considered doing hate speech if he shared his views that he didn't think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships." But civil marriage rights for same-sex couples had nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

More recently, he even compared same-sex marriage to incest, pedophilia and polygamy. He may cloak himself in media-friendly happy talk that plays well on television, but he stands steadfastly against any measure of equality for LGBT Americans.

President-elect Obama must now, as my mother used to say, put some meat on the bone. We've seen appointment after appointment of talented Americans who come from constituencies that are part of this country and that helped gain his election. Well, we're one of those constituencies who actually worked and voted for Obama, unlike Warren and probably most of his 21,000 parishioners. Yet, we're the ones left waiting for some real evidence of inclusion.

So, are we angry about Rick Warren? You bet we are. And including a gay marching band in the inaugural festivities doesn't heal this wound. It only serves to make us question the promises that Barack Obama made in his historic quest to be president. We pray we weren't misled.

The writer is president of the Human Rights Campaign.


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