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Obama and Rick Warren

Invoking Bigotry

by NORM KENT

It is my obligation as the publisher of a national gay newspaper to weigh in on the President-Elect’s selection of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver an invocation at his inauguration. This is change we can’t believe in.

As a spokesperson for the gay community, I want to make it clear that I find it offensive.

Mr. Obama is not being inclusive and ‘post-partisan.’ He is being divisive. He is ‘swift boating’ us. After Jeremiah Wright, you have to wonder about his selections for Divine Guidance.

As an individual, I don’t give a damn who gives the invocation at the inauguration, because that is not the speech I want to hear. Besides, between the fires in California, earthquakes in China, and that tsunami in the Far East, God’s been doing a lousy job lately. That does not mean I am an atheist. I just believe what Woody Allen said in one of his films: “If there is a God, he is an underachiever.” Or maybe She.

Mr. Obama thinks he can move the needle and bring us all together in a unified effort for a common purpose. He sees an America where I can walk hand in hand with my partner down the aisle, and Reverend Pat Robertson will marry us. I think maybe our President Elect has a little too much of Harvard in him. I agree with Congressman Barney Frank. Some of these people will never be our friends. We are just always going to agree to disagree. If we can do so respectfully, that is great. But I don’t have to invite as the best man to my wedding a pastor who would not marry me to my partner.

Abraham Lincoln once said the best way to defeat an enemy is to make him your friend, and Mr. Obama is a strong believer in Mr. Lincoln. In fact, it was revealed today that he will be sworn in on the Lincoln Bible. Mr. Obama said his invitation to Pastor Warren does not compromise his ‘fierce’ support of gay rights. Good, then let’s not expend to much political capital on his decision to have Warren at his swearing in. Let’s understand that Mr. Obama is the President of all the people, including those we do not agree with. I sympathize with all that. I don’t have to agree with it though, and I won’t.

In fairness to Mr. Obama, and in fairness to Mr. Warren, they have met before and become friends. Mr. Warren in fact ran an AIDS conference two years ago at his church and made a point of inviting Mr. Obama to talk. He accepted, and it sparked an outcry amongst angry evangelical Republicans within his church. But Mr. Warren stood firm, arguing that both sides need to be heard, that it "takes two wings to fly." So both men are building bridges, both men are reaching out, and both are to be applauded. Just don’t ask me to join in.  Call me unreasonable, but I don’t want half a hand.

One of the things I have learned in the civil rights movements is that you will continue to have adversaries. For every step forward we make, there will be those to push us back. For every partner we find, there is a Michael Savage nurturing hate against us. Unlike some activists whose comments I have been reading, I do not think gays have been thrown under the bus or that Mr. Obama has abandoned any promises yet. But I don’t intend to watch from the sidelines and give out free passes.

The pursuit of freedom is a relentless process which requires persistence. Yes, it demands patience, but not passivity. Oh, I remember all the well-intentioned persons who spoke vigorously against the gay marriage issue in 2004, saying we were pushing for too much too soon and too quickly. Where are they now?

Where are those voices of the status quo now that the Supreme Court of California has legalized same sex marriage?

Where are they now that Massachusetts and other states have also affirmed the principle that we can go beyond socially acceptable civil unions to permanently entrenched marriage declarations?

How many of those wimps wanted us not to push Lawrence vs. Texas to the Supreme Court, afraid we might get an adverse decision which would cripple forever the gay rights movement? When it comes to civil rights, there are no acceptable partial promises; no separate water fountains gays and lesbians have to drink from. Sometimes, it takes courts to mandate human rights political partisans will never provide for.

The Human Rights Campaign has given Mr. Obama a new agenda for 2009, saying it wants to ‘move on’ from the divisive issue of Pastor Warren. To his credit, the Pastor has posted on his own website an outreach to the gay community, saying that while he opposes gay marriages, he seeks to bridge our differences. That’s nice pastor, and it brings to mind all those nice Southern politicians who were willing to let Negroes ride the bus in the 1960’s, as long as they sat in the back.

I did not work all these years for a new America that is the same as the old America. I am not interested in appeasing evangelical Christians. I am interested in telling them to stop getting in our way. I am interested in letting them know there will be a price for racism, intolerance, and that just might be losing your place at the table this time.

My message to Mr. Obama is that there is going to be no ‘honeymoon’ either. The gay community in America has multiple voices and you can expect them to be heard. As this one instance with Pastor Warren shows, we won’t be quiet. Our voices want more than lip service. We seek action. The President Elect has an obligation to fulfill his commitment to support gay rights by initiating acts consonant with the same, from moving the equal rights non-discrimination legislation through Congress, to an executive order eliminating arbitrary exclusions of homosexuals from the armed forces of the United States of America.  

Look, I know there is a political reality which mandates that a new President has to get his feet wet, be grounded, and move forward with a steadiness of purpose that is based on a sure foundation. That does not mean we have to compromise our desire to see equal rights initiatives delayed or postponed. Just because something is good for the President does not mean it is good for the rights of gays. The pressure must be kept up. I don’t see any Aryans on the inaugural dais.

To those of you who are already apologists for an invocation from a pastor, whose politics has been one of exclusion, shame on you. There are too many other men and women the President could have picked. He chose not to, and Rick Warren should not be on the inaugural platform any more than the President elect should have invited him.

NORM KENT is a criminal defense and constitutional rights Fort Lauderdale lawyer who can be reached at Norm@norrmkent.com