I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post about Rick Warren being asked to speak at the Obama inauguration...
As a human being, and admittedly the kind of human being I am, I feel very offended that Rick warren should be asked to speak at the inauguration of a President whose very ethos enshrines the qualities of respect and equality.
I admire Barack Obama enormously, and on one level I admire his decision to reach out and bring such a divisive figure into his camp, for I believe that in order for real progress to be made in a rigidly bipartisan political system like America it is imperative to make the people we disagree with on some issues feel that we are eager to unite on those we do, instead of our political foes feeling ostracized and left out in the cold - allowing their more extreme opinions to only fester further in resentment and isolation.
Mr Warren, for a religious leader, is rather progressive when it comes to acknowledging the existence and engaging with the problems of poverty and AIDS (though I could do without his defense to charges of homophobia being that his church has helped people who have contracted the disease through gay sex. Does that mean he is pro drugs because he has helped people who contracted AIDS through sharing needles? Give me a break).
But of course he is rigidly anti-abortion (I refuse to say pro-life. It is another example of America’s need to disnefy the real world. Hello? If you don’t want women to be able to choose what they do with their bodies then you are anti-abortion. And people don’t pass, they die. Just say it!), and his opinions about the LGBT community have been well documented of late.
In many ways Rick Warren is like a lot of people we know - friend’s dads or people we meet on planes that are pleasant but occasionally offer an opinion that gives you a startling glimpse into the darkness of their souls. Comparing same-sex relationships being legitimized with incest and pedophilia is a case in point.
I am in a same-sex relationship (fully legitimized, incidentally, by the UK government) and so I can understand how my comments here could be perceived as biased, a knee-jerk reaction to my relationship being placed alongside illegal acts, but bear with me.
I, like the majority of Americans, feel that gay people are unfairly discriminated against and it is time they were afforded equal rights. I have heard the President-elect espouse these same opinions many times, and unlike some friends I have talked to over the last few days, I have no fears that he has altered these opinions in any way or that the invitation to Mr Warren compromises them and his desire to see them enacted into law.
Obama is very clearly showing his promise to be everyone’s President - from little, lefty queers like me to big, right-wing religious bigots like Rick Warren.
(And he is a bigot, go look it up in the dictionary).
But wait! I can see his point about gay marriage! Much as he misled his congregation about Proposition 8 with the fear-mongering notion that ministers would be arrested for not promoting some gay agenda if it passed, he does have a reasonable point that marriage has been defined in a certain way (i.e. not between two dirty queers) for many years (he claims five thousand but who’s counting?), and as we all know as we emerge exhausted from this last election, change is difficult.
I see his issue with it. And Mr Warren does seem to support equality for the gay community in all other ways, so it seems to be merely a semantic issue with the use of the word ‘marriage’.
If he, and many other millions of Americans, cannot handle the word ‘marriage’ in reference to two men or two women, and if that is the only stumbling block to him being able to embrace equality and the end of prejudice against gays, then fine! Fine, Mr Warren, keep your ‘marriage’!
I actually think the gay rights’ movement has shot itself in the foot with the insistence on this actual word. For me, the most important thing is that I have the same rights and protections as any other human being, whether I wish to enter into a legally recognized relationship or whether I wish to remain single. And as things stand right now, I have neither.
I am not even actually ‘married’. I ‘entered into a civil partnership’. Of course everyone, even the man who conducted the ceremony called it ‘marriage’ but technically, legally it is a civil partnership – one incidentally that straight people can enter into too. So are we to believe that Mr Warren and his fellow Americans would feel comfortable if the US government followed the UK model (where the word ‘marriage’ was also a small moot point?)
Maybe - in the spirit of the new United States of Obamica - the gay community needs to reach out and say that if the end of a civil rights’ struggle rests around the interpretation of one word, then it is willing to forego that word and use another, or others.
But why should they? Obama has shown his empathy for gay marriage by pointing out that his parents’ marriage was illegal in many states when he was born. (Incidentally he said 12, but it was actually 22 according to Politifact.com). Would he have been fine with saying his parents entered into a civil partnership? Maybe. But would he be fine with hearing that his parents’ marriage was akin to a brother marrying his sister or a paedophile marrying a child? I think not.
And that, finally, is what is so upsetting and insulting about the idea that Rick warren will be standing on the podium on this great day of celebration for a new America: because this whole thing is not about gay rights or policy or differences of opinion, it is about human decency and respect. Let’s face it, a generation ago Rick Warren would have made Barack Obama sit at the back of the bus, and now it’s the gays who are back there and we feel kind of lonely.