Being presidential

I haven’t commented on the bitter complaints by gay activists over Barack Obama’s selection of Rick Warren as one of the two pastors who will bless the inauguration. Warren will offer the invocation; veteran civil rights leader Joseph Lowery will provide the benediction. Warren opposes same-sex marriage and voiced his opposition during the campaign over California’s referendum on the subject. Lowery supports same-sex marriage.

Warren’s views are in line with the majority of Americans (as the California vote confirmed) and surely are in line with vast majority of American religious leaders. Obama apparently did not wish to take a side in this dispute (albeit one-sided) between religious views, and certainly did not want to take the minority side. His neutrality is, I think, presidential and consistent with his stated desire to de-emphasize, to the limited extent possible, that which “divides us.” It also happens to be good politics, considering how influential Warren is.

To be sure, popular majorities, neutrality, and shrewd politics would hardly constitute defenses if same-sex marriage were supported by a moral imperative. But I do not believe it is. More importantly, neither does Obama. In fact, as I understand it, Obama’s official position is opposition to gay marriage. Below the surface, he may feel differently about the merits, but it’s highly doubtful that he sees a moral imperative running in either direction.

It makes sense that those who do perceive a moral imperative in favor of same-sex marriage are outraged by the selection of Warren. By the same token, the millions of Americans who see gay marriage as sinful might reasonably take offense at the selection of Lowery, though I’m not aware that many have.

UPDATE: E.J. Dionne embarrasses himself again in his column on the subject. He writes;

Although I support same-sex marriage, I think liberals should welcome Obama’s success in causing so much consternation on the right. On balance, inviting Warren opens more doors than it closes.

It’s edifying to see Dionne explicitly identify his touchstone in evaluating the issues of the day — how much “consternation” does it produce “on the right.” But Dionne offers no evidence that, as he puts it elsewhere in the column, “so many conservatives are so angry with Warren for blesssing the new president’s inaugural.” There must be some conservatives who are angry at Warren, but I haven’t seen any sign of such anger. What I’ve seen, and what I believe, is more in line with the tenor of Bill Kristol’s view:

This isn’t the time for conservatives to snipe at Obama’s motives. It’s time to welcome him into the American mainstream, to salute the president-elect’s progress from Reverends Wright to Warren.

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