Some people seem genuinely puzzled by the uproar over Obama's choice of anti-gay activist and megachurch pastor Rick Warren as inaugural speaker. It's just words, they argue, free speech, what's the big deal? Obama himself said of Warren: "We can disagree without being disagreeable."
The problem, as many commentators have noted, is that we're not disagreeing about abstract ideas -- we're disagreeing about civil and human rights.
I would argue that we're disagreeing about most basic human right of all -- the right to live a life free of violence.
Because words are where violence begins. And in America, violence against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people most often begins in hateful and intolerant words spoken in right-wing churches like Rick Warren's Saddleback. Warren has compared gay and lesbian people to pedophiles and perpetrators of incest (you can watch the CNN video of his remarks here). His words may often be cloaked more politely, but in his intolerance, Warren is really no different than James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, or other peddlers of anti-gay hate.
And the seeds of that hate are growing faster than ever.
This year, the FBI reported a 1% decline in hate crimes in the United States. At the same time, they revealed a 6% increase in hate crimes against gay, lesbian, and transgendered people. In the past few months alone, shocking murders have been reported across the country from Oxnard, CA to Brooklyn, NY, and most recently, San Francisco.
From The Associated Press:
A woman in the San Francisco Bay area was jumped by four men, taunted for being a lesbian, repeatedly raped and left naked outside an abandoned apartment building, authorities said Monday.
Detectives say the 28-year-old victim was attacked Dec. 13 after she got out of her car, which bore a rainbow gay pride sticker. The men, who ranged from their late teens to their 30s, made comments indicating they knew her sexual orientation, said Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan. "It just pushes it beyond fathomable," he said. "The level of trauma -- physical and emotional -- this victim has suffered is extreme."
The 45-minute attack began when one of the men approached the woman as she crossed the street, struck her with a blunt object, ordered her to disrobe and sexually assaulted her with the help of the other men.
When the group saw another person approaching, they forced the victim back into her car and took her to a burned-out apartment building, where she was raped again inside and outside the vehicle. The assailants took her wallet and drove off in her car. Officers found the car abandoned two days later.
This is the reality of what gay people in this country endure while right-wing Christians like Warren claim to be 'the real' victims of intolerance ("Christ-o-phobia," to use Warren's word). For years, these people of faith have successfully lobbied to prevent Federal hate crimes statutes to be amended to include crimes against gay, lesbian, or transgendered people, arguing it would infringe on the faithful's right to "speak freely."
That argument is nonsense, of course, but even if it weren't, should a person's right to incite bigotry, intolerance, and murderous hatred from the pulpit trump people's right to simply live in peace?
And should such a person ever be invited to a post of honor and respect at a Presidential inauguration?