You can disagree about the propriety of the auto industry bailout. You can disagree about free trade. You can disagree about a lot of things. But when you say gay people are pedophiles and rapists, that is not a simple disagreement: it is a stupid, hateful position that, say, a President-elect should stay miles away from.
Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration is dreadful. His explanation is, if possible, even worse. He shrinks Warren's grotesque comparisons down to a "disagreement," as if we were talking about ethanol subsidies. But we are not. In fact, we are not even talking about marriage rights, we are talking about demonizing an entire group of Americans for the purpose of religious indoctrination, political gain and financial profit. Or doing so out of sheer hatred and idiocy. Or both.
During this year's primary, Obama suddenly realized after 20 years that his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, said things that were so beyond the pale that it was worth throwing him under the political bus, and shunning him forever. What those things were, besides loud snippets taken out of context, is not clear, but I am pretty sure Wright has never falsely accused anyone of pedophilia, rape, incest and bestiality, no matter how over-the-top his style may occasionally be. But Wright was scary to lots of people, most of them white, whose fear of a black planet overrode any rational analysis (starting with the fact that if the bourgeois Obamas attended Trinity, that in itself was a pretty sure bet that the church was not fomenting an Afro-centric revolution.) But Obama did what he had to do not to lose too badly in Pennsylvania and Ohio, kicking Wright to the curb, ostensibly because he was "outraged" by the pastor's comments.
That Wright appears to have been replaced by Warren in Obama's heart says a lot about the president-elect's rootlessness and shifting identity. Within a year, he has gone from relying on the advice of a virulently progressive African-American pastor in a Chicago church, to being "friends" with an arch-conservative, bigoted, white pastor from Orange County, and handing the latter the most visible platform a religious leader in America can behold, the presidential inauguration.
Obama's inclusiveness was always conditional, as evidenced by the Wright affair. Obama says we have to "create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable;" but is there anything more disagreeable than being called an incestuous rapist pedophile? There are plenty of people who are not invited to the inauguration, are not part of Obama's circle, and are certainly not asked to give the invocation. If not, we would all be howling at the presence of the good people from the Aryan Nation, the Nation of Islam and sundry other groups. But these groups make the mistake of not only being deeply homophobic, but also of spewing hatred towards a whole slew of other segments (women, Jews, African-Americans, Catholics, Christians, white people, etc). Were they to stick to vilifying gay people, as Warren does, they would be golden, and may even find a place at the all-inclusive Obama table. There is clearly no group in America, perhaps besides Muslims, who could be vilified so openly and officially, and be told to get over it in the name of agreeing to disagree.
Obama's clinical interpretation of his "disagreement" with Warren's hate-speech makes it sound as if he and the pastor are Ron Kirk and Hilda Solis, respectively the nominated US Trade Representative and Labor Secretary, jauntily sparring over free trade with Colombia. That shows a horrible misunderstanding of the state of gay America, or perhaps a case of political cynicism gone way, way too far, even by Washington's loose standards. Two weeks ago a man was killed in New York for being gay, "a lynching in Brooklyn," the New York Times called it. Gay people and those perceived to be gay make up one in six of all reported hate crimes in the United States (and far more go unreported.) Do we really think that there is not a cause and effect between demonizing gay people and the beatings and maimings and murders they suffer disproportionately for being hated? And does Obama really want to be complicit in this persecution? And does he really want to be known as a chief contributor to the well-oiled campaign to deprive gay people of some of the most basic of rights?
We are told that Joseph Lowery, the prominent African-American minister and civil rights leader, will also be involved in the inauguration, and he is a strong supporter of gay rights, including marriage. That's good, but what is this inauguration, some kind of daytime talk show (or CNN at any time for that matter) where every time a gay (or gay friendly) person is featured, there has to be a counterpoint, usually someone who thinks gay people should all die because it says so in the bible? By the way, we are also told that FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME there will be a gay marching band at the inauguration. Now that really makes up for being called a pedophile.
Obama, smooth talker that he is, stumbled in his response to questions about Warren's involvement, finally mumbling something about his "consistent" support of "equality for gay and lesbian Americans." Even that meek pronouncement was a bit of an overstatement: if he opposes same-sex marriage, he is by definition not in favor of equality. Perhaps more importantly, you definitely lose all right to call yourself a supporter of gay rights when you associate yourself so closely with a man who hates gay people. There is nothing more for Obama to say on the subject, except to apologize, explain that he was misguided and/or misinformed, withdraw his invitation to Warren, and never be seen with him again.
In one fell swoop, even before his inauguration, Obama has succeeded in matching Bill Clinton's single worst moment of cynicism, his gratuitous attack on Sister Souljah. And that is exactly what is most painful about Obama's elevation of Warren to "America's pastor:" the gratuitousness of it all. If all goes well, he is four years away from his next election. He received far more backing in time and money from gay people and their supporters than he ever could from Warren's congregation, as Jane Smiley aptly put it. At least Clinton was in some trouble (wasn't he always?) when he lashed out at Sister Souljah. This of course does not make it better, but one could at least pretend that his desperate need to cling to power blinded him to the racism of the occasion.
Obama, by contrast, is on top of the world. What does he need Warren for at this very moment? The small, short-term advantage he gets from associating so closely with a hate-mongerer gives us a pretty good idea of where gay people stand in the president-elect's moral and political calculations. It wasn't always so of course, as I recall at least one fundraising event at the home of a gay couple where Obama raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars at one of the roughest moments of his campaign. There were also the millions of hours of volunteer work put in by gay people all over the country, and endless donations and endorsements.
And we did all this despite sometimes profound misgivings about Obama's position on same-sex marriage, with which he "disagrees." He never could really tell us why, or wouldn't tell us why, hiding behind the circular argument that marriage is between "a man and a woman." It is high time that instead of simply swallowing our pride, we put our money and votes where our mouth is, and that is simply not with those whose opposition to our rights is based in political calculation, cynicism, or a highly misplaced injection of religion into public policy. When we have misgivings, let's listen to them and act on them. Let's not take a wink-wink nod-nod approach to securing our rights: it makes us look weak and does not work. Let those who "disagree" with our very being do so at their own expense. And let those who disagree with hate do so loudly, clearly and consistently, or fail to do so at their own expense. And let us start by walking away from an inauguration at which we will have to sit (or stand a mile away) and watch the man we put so much hope into betray us so deeply in the first seconds of his presidency. For those who insist on going, a hotel room and two train tickets from New York to Washington are newly available.