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Obama Steps Over the Line

In an insightful column in The New York Times Sunday, Frank Rich attributes Obama’s choice of the Rev. Rick Warren — the megachurch pastor who has likened gay marriage to pedophilia, incest and polygamy (watch it here on CNN) — to arrogance. The decision “was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong,” writes Rich, a notion that eerily echoes George Bush’s hubris over the last eight years.

Let’s hope that the decision is just arrogance, as opposed to bigotry or political expediency. Bigotry would be a slap in the face to minorities of all kinds that worked so hard to get Obama into office; political expediency would put the lie to Obama’s claim that he’s all about change.

Unfortunately, Obama’s justification that he wants this “to be the most inclusive inauguration ever” is wholly unconvincing. “We can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said of the invitation to Warren.

But can we? Aren’t there some views that are so bigoted and dangerous that they ought to be denounced? Would Barack Obama invite a prominent segregationist to speak at his inauguration? Aren’t there some views that simply don’t deserve a seat at the table?

Surely, Obama wouldn’t have given such an honored position to a pastor who equated interracial marriage to immoral and criminal behavior, though historically that was the prevailing view and some people likely still see it that way.

Perhaps mainstream society isn’t as far along in its support of gay rights as it is in support of the rights of other minorities — as we learned from the passage of the arguably illegal Proposition 8 in California in November. But wasn’t Obama elected to lead the country to a better place? And as a member of a group that has suffered the humiliations and violence that accompanies the sort of discriminatory views Rick Warren now espouses about gay people, shouldn’t we expect him to know where to draw the line between a political disagreement and hateful bigotry?

Sure, Warren has been an important and influential advocate on issues like poverty, climate change and AIDS, and a prominent advocate on those issues should be included in the inauguration. His unfortunate views against abortion and stem-cell research could arguably be considered religious or political disagreements. But hateful discrimination cloaked as an acceptable moral and political position steps very clearly over the line.

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