Obama, Rick Warren and the lingering pain for gays

The response to Barack Obama’s pick of evangelical Christian Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration has, not surprisingly, been hot. Some of it’s searing, some not so much. Wayne Besen, whose critiques of anti-gay everything can be stinging, was downright temperate — at least for him — in describing how Warren, the pastor of Saddleback megachurch is not so bad.

Warren reportedly supports limited partnership rights for gay couples. He condemns torture (though he does little to stop it). And Warren doesn’t damn non-evangelicals to hell. In other words, Warren is not an intemperate, sadistic, tyrannical, greedy, or emotionally disturbed evangelist like Donnie McClurkin or James Dobson, or a racist like Tony Perkins — though he diplomatically claims to be different from Dobson only in tone, not substance.

But journalist David Corn was not so generous.

… Warren’s opposition to gay rights is more than a mere policy dispute. It is an act of bigotry. Sure, Warren does not believe he is being discriminatory. But that’s what it is. He is denying rights to certain Americans because he disapproves of how they love. By handing Warren this prime slot at the inauguration, Obama is saying that he recognizes Warren as a spiritual leader and is reaffirming Warren’s position as such. This is an insult to gay Americans and those who support equal rights in this nation …

… Simple question: would Obama allow a minister who opposed granting equal rights to interracial couples to deliver the invocation at his inauguration?

Today, Obama responded to the criticisms, saying “it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues.”

But bottom line, as Marc Ambinder noted in his Atlantic blog, this may not be as much an issue as if Obama had, for example, appointed a gay or lesbian to a high-profile cabinet position. Add to that the lingering hurt that Proposition 8 in California, and other anti-gay measures that passed in other states, has undoubtedly created.

One reason the Rick Warren thing is a big deal to gay rights activists is because, after their experience with President Bill Clinton, the gay community is unusually sensitive to getting the shorter angle of presidential triangulation.

Would this have been easier for gays to take if, say, Obama had just named Mary Beth Maxwell as Labor Secretary? I doubt you’d have had any controversy at all. As the Cabinet appointments get doled out, gays feel like they are standing awkwardly on the side of the playground while, one by one, the other kids get picked for the soccer team. The Council on Environmental Quality? Nice, but JV.

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Cara Degette

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