Barack Obama, Gay Marriage and the Rick Warren Inaugural Fight: Letting Him Talk is Smart Politics

Obama is doing just what he said he would. It's up to us not to get complacent.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog.

Here is a bit of calculated political advice for gay Americans. You can take it or leave it.

I think you should drop the Rick Warren attacks.

Not that Rev. Warren, a professed Christian with a large religious audience, doesn't deserve to be taken to task for his un-Christian behavior. And that goes for the other mainstream faiths which, not content to dictate the definition of marriage within their churches, want to apply it to the rest of us.

Haven't any of these guys read the Sermon on the Mount? Or the First Amendment?

Yet the truth of the matter is that we advocates of gay rights, and gay marriage, got complacent. We were slowly winning the arduous political battle of converting hearts and minds here in America, and we forgot, for a crucial moment, the strength of the country's Puritan and Papist traditions. And we got beat in California.

Hurt. Anger. Regret. All justified.

But nobody said this was going to be easy. When have your lives been easy? Time to redouble our efforts.

Now, why should we give Warren—and Barack Obama—a pass?

Well, Obama is just doing what he said he would. He promised to try and heal and unite a country that the current administration took delight in dividing. It is something, quite simply, that American needs right now. And uniting means welcoming and accepting differences. It is what we want our countrymen to do for us, and we need to do it for them. Like marriage, pluralism is no one-way street.

During the last campaign, Obama and the Democrats (who are marginally better on gay issues than Republicans) reached out to Evangelical voters, and to conservative Catholics, to try to close this division. Having Warren say a prayer at the Inauguration is a small symbolic nod to these religious conservatives. Hopefully, to defuse suspicion and hatred.

This is, ultimately, a political battle. Judges can interpret state constitutions. But legislatures, and initiatives like Proposition 8, can trump judges. In the end, we are going to have to persuade the vast voting public, a lot of whom are religious, to ratify an historic change in the civic institution of marriage.

I think we can do it. I believe Americans are good, fair-hearted people. The last election certainly says so. And, among young Americans, who are growing up in a different time than their parents and grandparents, gay rights has the broad support of Mom and Apple Pie. So, in the long run, we win.

My advice: better to lay off Warren, and channel your energy (and exploit the strong and deep support of the music and motion picture industries) to drown American in a campaign of evocative Internet advertisements, like the YouTube ads that united a generation behind Obama, and touched so many of their parents as well. And get your voters to the polls.

As a tactical matter, there is surely a place in campaigns for employing grievances to enflame one's troops and to raise the level of participation and energy. It may also serve the cause, at this moment, to sting the Democrats and the incoming Obama administration, so you are not taken for granted.

But the practical question that gay political leaders must face—with more detailed data than I have—is whether it is wiser to use this incident to rally their base, or to continue to show middle America the moderation and reasonableness that has earned such political good will for LGBT Americans in recent years.

Warren's willingness to extend his hand to liberals is noteworthy. And moderates and conservatives, in weighing a rapprochement, will be studying the liberal response. There is an opportunity here.

Yeah, I know it is tough. Why is it always the bruised minority that has to act nobly in America?

It's just the way things are. Until we change them. And we will. We are.

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