Inauguration rev. draws ire

The LGBT and ally communities, who were some of President-elect Barack Obama’s most outspoken advocates over the past few months, were just as loud in the past week in their criticism of Obama.

On Dec. 17, the president-elect announced that the Rev. Rick Warren would deliver the invocation at his Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony. Warren, pastor of the evangelical Saddleback Church in California, has been a strong opponent of the LGBT community.

LGBT-rights supporters asserted that, with the selection of Warren, Obama has betrayed his campaign pledge that he’d be an advocate for the LGBT community.

“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,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a Dec. 17 letter to the president-elect. “We have been moved by your calls to religious leaders to own up to the homophobia and racism that has stood in the way of combating HIV and AIDS in this country. And you have publicly called on religious leaders to open their hearts to their LGBT family members, neighbors and friends. But we feel a deep level of disrespect when one of the architects and promoters of an antigay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination.”

Warren recently drew the ire of the LGBT community for his support of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that succeeded last month in banning same-sex couples from marrying in the state.

He’s postured that the legalization of same-sex marriage is the same as the government condoning incest, pedophilia or polygamy.

In a recent interview with NBC’s Ann Curry, Warren said it was irrelevant whether homosexuality was biological in nature or not. He argued that gays and lesbians should resist their impulses, saying they need to exercise maturity; Warren said that although he may be “naturally inclined to have sex with every beautiful woman I see,” he doesn’t give in to those desires.

Obama defended his choice last week, noting that LGBT-supportive Methodist minister Joseph Lowery will deliver the benediction at the ceremony. Obama said the inauguration will bring together people from all walks of life whose viewpoints he does not necessarily share.

“During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented,” Obama said during a Dec. 18 press conference. “And that’s how it should be because that’s what America’s about. That’s part of the magic of this country. We are diverse and noisy and opinionated.”

Warren, who has equated abortion with the Holocaust, drew criticism from his own congregation when he invited Obama, who is pro-choice, to address his church in 2005.

Obama noted that while many of Warren’s supporters did not agree with his views, he considered the event to be a success because it illustrated that individuals with differing viewpoints can peacefully work together.

“I was invited to Rick Warren’s church to speak despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak and that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign has been all about: We’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.”

Openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said the inauguration issue is vastly different from Warren’s inclusion of Obama in his church.

“It is irrelevant that Rev. Warren invited Sen. Obama to address his congregation, since he extended an equal invitation to Sen. 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,” Frank said. “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.”

Earlier this week, the Inaugural Committee announced that openly gay U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) had been named as an honorary inauguration committee co-chair. Other co-chairs include Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Gen. Colin Powell; a number of Congressmembers and family members of the president- and vice-president-elect.

Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, turned down an invitation to attend the inauguration because of the Warren controversy.

“I was looking forward to hearing a speech by the new president about his vision of a new America and an end to the politics of division where one group is pitted against another. Rick Warren does not share that vision. Far from it,” Kors said in a statement last week. “It would be impossible for me to attend the inauguration where a person who has worked to deny my and Equality California members’ equality is setting the tone.”

Last week, Equality California posted a petition on its Web site, which will be sent to Obama, asking him to reconsider Warren’s role in the inauguration.

Alice Kessler, spokesperson for Equality California, said that more than 14,000 people have signed the petition but that, thus far, Obama has indicated that he will not reconsider his selection.

“EQCA cannot take part in an inauguration ceremony that does not provide a place at the table for all Americans, including those who are LGBT,” Kessler said. “There are plenty of religious leaders who embrace our community and could have been selected for the invocation. The LGBT community will not be silent when it comes to holding our leaders accountable in treating everyone with dignity and respect.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected]