Dear President-Elect Obama and Pastor Rick Warren:
I was at first dismayed and appalled at the idea of Rick Warren delivering the invocation at your inauguration. When I first heard of the choice I must admit I was incredulous that you would give someone who, despite his intelligence in some matters, appears to wish gays and lesbians did not exist. As of merely couple of weeks ago, the Saddleback church did not welcome "unrepentant" gays and lesbians, and even has had an outreach program to "help" gays and lesbians choose a heterosexual lifestyle.
But then a few important things happened. Pastor Warren, you displayed the courage of your convictions when you stood up to folks who did not want you delivering the invocation for someone such as Barack Obama, who has stood very clearly for overall civil rights for the LGBT community (to the unfortunate exclusion of full marriage). You also accepted an invitation to dinner from Melissa Etheridge, a prominent lesbian who is married and has children, and who has been very outspoken in defense of marriage rights for same sex couples. I applaud you for having the courage to act in a Christ-like way and open yourself up to knowing and loving people you may disagree with deeply.
President-Elect Obama, I am glad America is getting a President like yourself, someone who is willing to stick his neck out and make hard decisions, who is willing to challenge his base in order to further dialog on important issues such as LGBT rights, as well as to make common cause with someone such as Pastor Warren. Not only did Pastor Warren omit some of the most egregious text on church website within a few days of the controversy breaking open, he also does much more for the poor and disadvantaged of the world than most. His practice of reverse tithing (giving 90% of his income instead of 10%) and his work to help those with HIV/AIDS are admirable.
However, I must publicly take issue with you both on your positions regarding same sex marriage. President-Elect, I was a little disappointed, yet only slightly surprised, to read in your book The Audacity of Hope that you "believe that American society can choose to carve out a special place for the union of a man and a woman as the unit of child rearing most common to every culture."
Even though you do go on to state that you support full legal rights for same sex couples (hospital visitation, property rights, etc.), this is cold comfort to those who want the recognition of their secular and/or spiritual communities as married couples. Denying this recognition I think is not only gratuitous, but also cruel. Especially doing it in the name of "a special place... for child rearing". According to the "State of Our Unions 2007" by the Marriage Project at Rutgers University, marriage as an institution is in decline overall, and large numbers of children grow up in single parent or otherwise "fragile" households.
In this environment, then, it seems nonsensical to deny the right to marry to a population who could, conceivably, renew the institution and offer loving, two parent households to children with the same security and rights that opposite sex couples can offer their children. Furthermore, in this time of tight budgets, why not simply open marriage up to same sex couples, instead of starting what would surely be a cumbersome process of creating an entirely new legal category called "civil union"? If you truly do believe in giving the same rights to same sex couples, I see no legitimate reason not to call it "marriage".
Of course, we could instead drop marriage altogether as a legal category, call all unions "civil unions", and let the religious institutions do the marrying. However, I think this would be more cumbersome than simply opening up marriage, and also smacks of a sort of "if we can't keep it for ourselves, then no one can have it."
I hope you will both do some serious soul searching in the months to come and change your positions on same sex marriage. It seems to me fairly certain that within the next generation same sex marriage will become a reality in this country. Which side of history do you want to be on?