Monday, December 29, 2008

A Reasonable Response to an Anti-Gay Inauguration

In case you missed it while you were playing Rock Band 2 all weekend, Frank Rich had an excellent op-ed piece in the NYTimes about the whole Rick Warren inauguration kerfuffle. Fosco, like a lot of gays, has been trying to come to terms with Obama's choice in a way that doesn't minimize its hurtfulness without overplaying its importance (and Fosco will be first to admit that he has yet to find the right balance). Luckily, Frank Rich's column does all of Fosco's work for him.

[Before we begin, I have to know: do the older pictures of Warren (like the one above) raise the issue of whether he's now sporting a hair transplant?]

But back to Rich's column...

One of the questions raised by the Warren choice is that of the extent to which people with repugnant viewpoints should be allowed "at the table" as it were. To what extent can Obama maintain something like a "big tent" of political opinion without actively banishing large sections of the US populace (like the Christian right)? In this case, a distinction needs to be made between "at the table" and "at the head of the table." Rich is right on here:

But there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope. You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”
Similarly, we have to raise the question of the balance between all the good that Rick Warren does (focusing on climate change, poverty and AIDS, for example) and his evil (comparing gay marriage to incest, pedophilia, etc.) Once again, Rich gets it:
Warren, whose ego is no less than Obama’s, likes to advertise his “commitment to model civility in America.” But as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reminded her audience, “comparing gay relationships to child abuse” is a “strange model of civility.”
Rick Warren may be saying the right things on lots of different issues, but that doesn't change the fact that he has openly lied about gay marriage. It is one thing to say that his religion leads him to oppose gay marriage; it's another thing to raise fear and hatred by comparing gay marriage to the bogeymen of incest and child abuse. Once again, it is possible for us to condemn Rick Warren without condemning all religion.

The other big question here is why Obama, a strong supporter of (most) LGBT rights, thinks this is a good idea in the first place. Hint: there's hubris involved...
Much more to the point is the astute criticism leveled by the gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who, in dissenting from the Warren choice, said of Obama, “I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” That’s a polite way of describing the Obama cockiness.
When Obama defends Warren’s words by calling them an example of the “wide range of viewpoints” in a “diverse and noisy and opinionated” America, he is being too cute by half. He knows full well that a “viewpoint” defaming any minority group by linking it to sexual crimes like pedophilia is unacceptable.
Obama would love to be able to force a reconciliation between the gays and the evangelicals based solely on the power of his (admittedly commanding) personality. Unfortunately, however, there are conflicts that can't be mended through the power of personality or through the strategy of extreme inclusion. There are indeed issues on which we cannot "all just get along" and these are the issues that Obama, as someone who aspires to some version of progressivism, needs to take a stand on.

Of course, in the end, none of this will really matter much if Obama repeals "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and works to pass ENDA. On this point, Rich quotes historian Timothy McCarthy:
McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.” And “for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.”
If Obama does this, I'm willing to give him a pass on Rick Warren. So now let's get back to Rock Band.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When watching the Rick Warren interview in question:

it's a stretch to say he likens gay marriage to incest and pedophilia. In the same interview, he says divorce is a greater threat to the family than gay marriage. So following the same logic would bring us to the dubious conclusion that Rick Warren thinks divorce is worse than incest and pedophilia. Since this is nonsense, one of two things must be untrue. Either Warren doesn't think divorce is worse than gay marriage, OR he doesn't consider gay marriage the same as incest and pedophilia. Watching the interview, it's clear the latter and not the former is the case.

So what's the big problem with Rick Warren praying at the inaugeration? That he opposes gay marriage? Big deal - so does Obama.

The largest group opposed to gay marriage is evangelical Christians. Vilifying Rick Warren hurts, not helps, the cause of gay marriage. It casts its supporters as harsh and (ironically) intolerant. It makes evangelicals fear that, should gay marriage become legal, their churches could be forced to perform such ceremonies or that pastors speaking out against the practice would be accused of hate crimes. Rick Warren specifically mentions this fear as the reason he supported proposition 8. Being smeared for his view makes the point more profoundly than he could ever have.

The BeeMaster