Inauguration Inspires but Ignores LGBT Rights and Misplaces Religion

By Ethan Resnick (Co-Founder, Technology Director, Designer, Columnist) [?]

Published: January 27, 2009 and Updated: January 2, 2010
Original LA News Desk Content

In the 41 years since Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech, our country has progressed by leaps and bounds. One week ago, "a man whose father, less than sixty years ago, might not have been served at a local restaurant" came before America as its first African-American President. Although change was gradual, Obama's inauguration served as a single, tangible event that brought this change to the consciousness of all Americans and brought on the feelings of a truly new age; it created a sense that now, for the first time, America's claim of unbound opportunity for all had finally been fulfilled. As attendee Willy Wright put it, "It knocks down all of the barriers, all of the crutches... This could be your destiny as well." The feelings of attaining equality were also echoed by Rev. Rick Warren and Rev. Joseph Lowery, who gave the invocation and benediction, respectively.

While I certainly agree with everything said above, the fact that America has not reached equality in regards to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) rights seemed to be either completely overlooked or flat-out contradicted in the invocation, benediction, and inaugural address. Not once, in any speech or commentary, was this still-present lack of equality for LGBT addressed (excluding a brief and general remark from Rev. Lowery).

Rather, the various speakers made hypocritical claims about equality, as none of them support marriage for LGBT. In his invocation, Rev. Warren said: "We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility... Help us oh God to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all." He added "[God,] when we fail to treat our fellow human beings on all the earth with the respect that they deserve... forgive us." Yet, although these lines proclaim freedom for all, justice for all, and respect for all, Warren was an avid supporter of Proposition 8 (California's recently-passed ban on gay marriage) and has compared homosexuality to incest, pedophilia, and polygamy.

Because of Warren's outrageous views, many question why Warren was chosen to speak at the inauguration. In response, Obama said: "We're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable... Dr. Joseph Lowery, who has deeply contrasting views to Rick Warren on a whole host of issues is also speaking. During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented, and that's how it should be, because that's what America's about." However, this defense falls apart under only the slightest scrutiny because 1) the views represented actually weren't that broad: neither Lowery nor Warren support marriage for gays and lesbians (although Lowery supports civil unions) and both are Christian Reverends and 2) more importantly, this defense views Warren's words on homosexuality as simply a disagreeing viewpoint, as opposed to being blatantly discriminatory. One comment from an online site clearly voices the obvious flaw in the logic in Obama's defense: "So Mr. Obama, can we expect to see a member of the KKK speaking on the platform with you, too? After all, you seem to want to include everyone, regardless of their beliefs. So where is the racist preacher? Where's the anti-Semitic preacher?" Because of the holes in this defense, many believe that Obama's choosing of Warren was due in part to their personal friendship and was part of his attempt to reach out to the right.

While the views of Rev. Lowery and President Obama are considerably less controversial and less discriminatory (they support civil unions for LGBT) than those of Rev. Warren, there was still a degree of hypocrisy in their words. Lowery said "help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance" and Obama echoed "The time has come to... carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness." However, civil unions, at least in the United States, are anything but "equal", or "on the side of love... and inclusion" because: they deny same-sex partners all of the 1000+ federal rights granted by marriage; they aren't required to be recognized nationally (one could be granted a civil union in a state, only to have it be dissolved, possibly irreparably, upon moving); and they are less understood and less accepted than traditional marriage. If this weren't enough evidence to also argue that civil-unions infringe on the right for everyone "to pursue their full measure of happiness," one of the 1000+ rights excluded from civil unions is the right for a partner from outside the U.S. to obtain legal residency here. In other words, two partners would be forced to live apart because of their sexual-orientation... not "equal" or "happ[y]" if you ask me.

My other gripe with the inauguration proceedings was the incredibly blatant mix of religion and government, seemingly in direct violation of the Separation of Church and State principle derived from the 1st amendment of our Constitution. The speakers at Tuesday's inauguration were chosen by the President to participate in a civil event, and they should have treated it as such. To be fair, this was nothing new and, in fact, the speakers generally tried to be include all religions in their addresses. While they didn't try to avoid religion, at least they didn't (for the most part) simply assume that the whole country is Christian, as has happened in the past. Still though, 12-14 percent of our country (approximately 39 million people!) is agnostic or atheist and Obama was the only speaker to even mention this group. In terms of covering all bases, Obama was the closest, saying "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers." However, even this falls short, leaving out nine major world religions, most notably Buddhists, who make up a larger percentage of the U.S. population than Hindus or Muslims. Lowery prayed on behalf of the community to a Lord who is present in "our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek [his] will", but still left out the 39 million Americans (at an event where religion shouldn't be mentioned at all). Rick Warren tried to be inclusive, making references to Christianity (ending with the Lord's Prayer), Judaism (reciting part of the Sh'ma), and Islam (describing God in terms frequently used in the Quran); however, he ended up implying that everyone in the U.S. prays to Jesus: "I humbly ask this in the name of... Jesus, who taught us to pray." In addition to the speeches, the ceremony itself was filled with religion: Obama swore on a Bible; he continued the tradition of adding "so help me god" to the oath (though not required by the Constitution); and even the word benediction has a religious connotation, meaning both "an utterance of good wishes" and "a ceremonial prayer invoking divine protection."

So, after this long rant, I leave you with a few thoughts. Why does intolerance still exist, not just of sexual groups or religious groups or race groups, but also of age groups and of the disabled? Even more shockingly, how, on such an historic day, can members of a formerly (and still to some degree) oppressed minority (African-Americans), be intolerant in their views towards others? Also, why does our country tolerate religion in government? Do most Americans not protest because they agree with the religious views being stated? If so, why do people believe that protecting freedom and equality is only necessary when their group is the one affected?

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  • concerned citizen, on 01/28/2009, said:

    the story is too long try to summarize it.
    thanks in advance

  • John Guare, on 01/28/2009, said:

    this is complete ****. next time you feel like writing a story don't just pull it out of your ***. Way to turn the most important event in recent history into a pile of dog ****. I would rather **** out a rock than actually read this story.

  • Bob Forapples, on 01/28/2009, said:

    It's nice to see an opinion that strays from the same, mundane appreciation of the Inauguration as a "historic event." But I think it's a little too negative. In your own words it is a "long rant." (Maybe even a little too long.) It would be better if paired with an alternate opinion.

  • Ethan Resnick (Author), on 02/26/2009, said:

    @concerned citizen and Bob Forapples- i agree that the article's a bit long, but i think all the content is important. i certaintly could have made it shorter by editing everything to be more concise, but i only have some much time.

    @John Guare- you're entitled to your opinion, I disagree with it totally, but w/e.

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