Barack Obama’s ‘New Pastor’ Is a Slap in the Face to the Gay Community

Today, Barack Obama‘s Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced that Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California has been chosen to give the invocation at January’s inauguration. Warren was a vocal supporter of Proposition 8, saying during the election:

“There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2% of our population. This is one issue that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have publicly opposed the redefinition of marriage to include so-called ‘gay marriage.’ Even some gay leaders, like Al Rantel of KABC oppose watering down the definition of marriage.”

Barack Obama’s decision to allow a direct enemy of gays and lesbians to officiate at his inauguration isn’t just alarming, it’s outrageous and indefensible. We call on President-Elect Barack Obama to rescind his offer to Rev. Warren immediately.

We were early supporters of Barack Obama and your editor first endorsed the candidate in October of 2007, when his candidacy was considered quixotic and unwinnable. What appealed to us then, as it does now, is Obama’s commitment to move past partisan divides and govern from a common center, to choose hope over hate, to practice a politics of inclusion instead of one of division. The selection of Rev. Warren runs counter to everything Obama’s candidacy promised.

We understand the political appeal of Rev. Warren. He’s been dubbed ‘America’s Preacher’ and both Obama and McCain attended a debate sponsored by his Saddleback Church during the election. Perhaps, looking back at the last pastor Obama associated himself with, he sought to choose a comforting figure to reassure wary conservatives. Obama is a shrewd politician and Warren’s selection is one transparently made for political considerations.

Some will argue that Warren’s inclusion is a purely symbolic act and what matters is what Obama does for gays and lesbians while in office, but as Obama has said himself, “words matter.” Obama’s pick confers a legitimacy on Warren’s homophobic statements and there’s not a single reason why the LGBT community should consider this anything other than a slap in the face. Make no mistake, Rick Warren is an enemy of the gay community–and today, Obama has gone further than any other person could in legitimizing Warren’s homophobic beliefs.

The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder says the decision to give Rev. Warren the nation’s pulpit is:

Not so much pandering as it is Obama’s deft manipulation of the politics of symbolism. Obviously, Obama disagrees with Rick Warren on important issues. He has said so, many times, and publicly. And he agrees with him on other important issues. And ignoring something like Warren, a mainstream figure who commands the respect of million of Americans, would be foolish. Obama’s message is: Rick Warren is a part of Obama’s America, too.

That’s fine, but without a single LGBT person in the Cabinet, it seems that while Barack Obama’s America includes Rick Warren, gays and lesbians are conspicuously absent.

UPDATE: Parag Mehta is Obama’s LGBT liaison on the transition team. His email is [email protected]