Gays were furious when Barack Obama chose pastor Rick Warren to deliver the Inauguration Day invocation — this is a man, after all, who equates gay marriage with incest and bestiality, bars gays from becoming members of his Saddleback Church, and lobbied for Proposition 8. Longtime activist Hilary Rosen said on CNN that the announcement “felt like we were kicked in the stomach,” and popular blog Queerty called the choice “indefensible.”
But outrage slowly turned to watchful, if sometimes grudging, acceptance. Some recognized the “shrewd politics” of the choice, as Andrew Sullivan put it in his Atlantic blog; others simply didn’t understand the fuss (“It’s a two-minute prayer!” a former campaign staffer commented to us). And then there were those who believed it was a genuine act of inclusiveness, in keeping with the post-swearing-in benediction by the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who supports gay rights (but not marriage), and the Reverend Sharon Watkins’s leading of the national prayer service Wednesday morning, the first woman to do so.
“Unless we believe it’s pure political bull, Obama’s been talking the whole time about bringing people together across the ideological spectrum,” says gay-media veteran Chris Crain, adding: “Why is it a bad thing that someone who’s anti-gay wants to support the most pro-gay president we’ve had?” But Crain is an outlier; for the most part, the rancor is unabated: “The Warren choice was universally disappointing,” says Harry Knox, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program. “But both grayheads like me and young people are wise enough to see that we can’t expect perfection from our leaders. We have to be vigilant about getting the work done that it will take to get this legislation passed.”
He’s referring to major policy items, like “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which Obama says he wants to repeal. And certainly people are encouraged by the gays he’s appointed to high-level administration posts, like John Berry as head of the Office of Personnel Management. Though some, like 21-year-old Paul Sousa (founder of the new grassroots group Equal Rep), are steamed that the Cabinet remains resolutely un-gay — Sousa is lobbying for a secretary of LGBT Affairs — if the president-elect makes good on his promises and does something that “actually has repercussions on people’s lives,” as Sousa puts it, Warren will be an afterthought.
“On my site there’s two groups of people: those who are still justifiably very angry and others who [say] let it be water under the bridge and see what actions Obama’s going to take once he becomes president,” says Andy Towle of Towleroad (the DailyKos of the gay set). Since the Warren brouhaha erupted, “the Obama team has worked harder to bring out their true self, which I believe is inherently good and supportive and engaged in making the lives of gay people in this country better,” Rosen says. “I really do believe that.”