After the Rick Warren Flap, Can Obama Appeal Both to Gays and Evangelicals?

Obama's campaign did a good job reaching out to the LGBT community.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country.

I'm struck by the blizzard of comments responding to yesterday's report that evangelical megapastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration, especially the number of gay commenters venting outrage over the selection. Warren supported Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban that passed in California this past Election Day, and has made no secret of his disapproval of the gay lifestyle.

Consider this comment from Russ in California: 

Obama flushed his credibility down the toilet. Gays, their families, and their friends who financially supported Obama's campaign, and who voted for him were just given the finger by Obama. It was bad enough that Obama essentially did nothing where Prop 8 is concerned, except for one feeble statement very early on, now he picks a rabidly anti-gay "minister" to be at his inauguration. Obama need not look to gays, their families, or their friends for votes in 2012. And in 2012, Obama will lose. Totally 100% disgusted with him.

Or this from Patrick in New York:

I will not be thrown under the bus by Obama or any other politician on the core human rights issue of equality, and I will not stand idly by when a bigot is given such a national platform. I will support any campaign, join any fight, to protest this attack, EVEN ON INAUGURATION DAY if I have to.

It's important not to overstate the threat that Warren's selection as invocation speaker poses to Obama's popularity in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. The campaign did a good job reaching out to that community and is consulting its leaders as it hashes out a policy agenda for the first term. If Obama winds up advancing gay rights, it's going to be awfully hard for the LGBT community to hold a grudge against him for giving Rick Warren a role in his inauguration.

Right now, this looks like it might be a case of Obama employing good ol' Clinton triangulation politics—campaigning from the middle, by giving Rick Warren a spot on the dais on Inauguration Day, and governing from the left, by working with the LGBT community to actually craft policy.

This raises an important political question: Can Obama simultaneously make inroads with the LGBT and evangelical worlds during his first term? I think he can. Here's how: Even if Obama advances gay rights, say by signing a federal hate crimes law, he might not receive the kind of blowback from the evangelical world that he would have a decade ago. Polls show that evangelicals under 30 care a lot less about the whole constellation of gay rights issues than their parents—who vehemently oppose such rights and treat such issues as an important priority.

But those same polls show that younger evangelicals care just as much as their parents do (perhaps even a little bit more) about reducing abortions. So if Obama succeeds in implementing policies that reduce demand for abortions, demonstrating that that goal was more than just campaign rhetoric, he might gain evangelical support in 2012, even if he does advance gay rights.