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Obama Should Not Turn Down Rev. Rick Warren

Monday, 22 Dec 2008 03:44 PM

President-elect Barack Obama has selected Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and best-selling author, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.

Because the Rev. Warren opposes both same-sex marriage and abortion, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian rights organization in the U.S., Congressman Barney Frank and a host of gay and lesbian rights leaders and organizations are opposed to Warren delivering the invocation.

They have called upon President-elect Obama to withdraw the invitation. He has declined to do so, saying that he (Barack Obama) is a “fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans,” and going on to point out the inauguration will include people with a wide variety of viewpoints and “that’s how it should be.”

Congressman Frank, who is openly gay, denounced the President-elect’s decision, saying, “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.”

My support for gay rights and legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation goes back to before 1962.

In that year, I ran for the New York State Assembly and lost. My platform included a repeal of the New York state sodomy laws and when I became mayor in January 1978, I issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination by the government against city employees on the basis of sexual orientation.

It took eight more years of hard work to pass, in 1986, in the City Council, a law applying to the private sector outlawing discriminatory practices in employment, housing and education. According to Wikipedia, 22 years later only, “20 states, the District of Columbia and over 140 cities have enacted such bans.”

Only three states have legalized same-sex marriage — Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California. This year in a referendum voted on in California called Proposition 8, the people of that state revoked the right of same-sex marriage, so currently, only two states permit it.

There are a number of states that authorize civil unions and domestic partnerships which include same-sex unions. New York City permits same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partnerships. Regrettably, the great liberal state of New York does not have such a registry.

I support same-sex marriage. I didn’t always. When I ran for a fourth term as mayor in 1989, and lost to David Dinkins in the Democratic primary, I supported same-sex domestic partnerships, but not same-sex marriages.

I changed my mind when I became convinced that allowing domestic partnerships but not marriage to same-sex couples deprived them of valuable rights that only marriage can provide, e.g., full inheritance rights and equal protection under the federal and state tax codes, among other rights.

Those who denounce President-elect Obama ask the question, Would he allow a member of the clergy who was identified with racial or religious discrimination such as hostility to blacks or Jews to deliver the invocation? And, if he would not, how can he accept someone like Warren who has made his position eminently clear on same-sex marriage, campaigning for Proposition 8 in California?

In California, the attorney general, and former governor of the state, Jerry Brown, who first said he would defend the referendum outcome, has since announced a change of heart and will now seek to have the referendum declared unconstitutional.

The answer to the excellent question posed by those distressed by the invitation to Warren is, that gay rights, unfortunately, are still not viewed as comparable to those of other minorities.

After years of struggle in the courts and in the streets, racism and religious bigotry is no longer accepted by an overwhelming number of our citizens. As a result, in all 50 states, there are laws prohibiting such discrimination.

That is not true when it comes to discrimination against gays and lesbians. Until there is a change in the hearts and minds of the public, and it is happening, albeit much too slowly, many of our leaders will not view gay rights as comparable to other minority rights.

However, they are comparable, and in time, they will be viewed as such.

Of the 25 nations that are members of NATO, more than 20 permit gay people to serve in the military. According to Wikipedia, “Of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, two (Britain, France) permit gay people to serve openly and three (United States, Russia, China) do not.

"However, a poll taken in 2008 by The Washington Post and ABC showed 75 percent of Americans supported allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.”

A similar poll taken in 1993 showed only 44 percent of Americans supported military service of openly gay people.

President-elect Obama should not be pilloried by his supporters in the gay rights movement. Instead, they should use the occasion and the desire for unity in these troubled times with America’s economic future in peril, to educate not only Warren, but the leaders of orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that we are all children of God endowed with certain inalienable rights, including the right to marry a person of the same sex in a civil ceremony if they so choose.

President-elect Obama does not support same-sex marriage. He made that clear in his campaign. Surely it would be hypocritical for him to withdraw his invitation to the Rev. Warren for holding the same position for religious reasons.

An educational effort should now be made to get both of them to change their positions.

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President-elect Barack Obama has selected Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and best-selling author, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Because the Rev. Warren opposes both same-sex marriage and abortion, the Human Rights Campaign,...

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