Friday, December 19, 2008

Live And Let Hate

Out of all of President-elect Barack Obama's personnel choices thus far, his selection of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inauguration's invocation is quickly becoming the most controversial. Given that this minor role in the presidential transition is merely of symbolic significance, I think this issue is being overblown.

Don't get me wrong. I think Warren is an idiotic asshole. Hell, I'll go further than that. I think he's a corpulent poisonous toad who tries (but mostly fails) to pass himself off as a decent human being. Because he's smart enough to recognize that the laughably antiquated fundamentalist ramblings of aging religious leaders such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson aren't selling as well as they used to, Warren has gotten his message a shiny new paint job. Hence his friendlier demeanor and more effective sales pitch. But make no mistake, he's still firmly rooted in far-right wacko land.

The best evidence of Warren's unhinged views comes from his strong opposition to gay marriage. Like so many right-wing religious leaders, he brings up the horrors of incest and child molestation when denouncing marriage equality. If marriage can mean a union of two men or two women, such people ask, then what's to prevent unions between brothers and sisters or children and adults? Or what about animals? Why not allow people to marry their dogs? What perplexes me is not that a few blustering bigots are willing to make such comparisons, but rather that anyone else is able to take them seriously.

It's obvious that the distinction between homosexuality and child molestation or bestiality is that children and animals can't consent or sign contracts. As a society, we protect children and animals from abuse because we don't view them as capable of making decisions about sex for themselves. Adult incest is more complicated, if no less disturbing. But such circumstances are rare. There's no evidence that anyone is naturally inclined toward incest. And, in fact, the vast majority of people are strongly repulsed at the thought of those relationships.

The situation with homosexuality is quite different.

Though estimates vary, there's no doubt whether at least 2 or 3 percent of the population is gay. Reputable professional organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have, after decades of study, concluded that homosexuality is not a mental illness, and it is not something that can be changed through therapy. Thus, millions of Americans are and always will be gay. Regardless of whether one approves of this fact, a person needs to be sadly out of touch with reality to deny it.

But back to Obama's choice of Warren to offer a prayer at the presidential inauguration.

As an atheist, I would prefer there not to be a prayer included. However, I'm well aware that the U.S. remains a country in which many people are devoutly religious. This is fine with me. Though I think many of such people's beliefs are tragically misguided, they have the right to believe what they want. And, as the president-elect, Obama is free to invite whomever he wants to pray at his own inauguration. I couldn't care less.

Some gay people are far more sensitive than I am regarding the offensive analogies between homosexuality and child molestation offered up by Warren and his ilk. Of course I take umbrage at such perverse comparisons, but I'm secure enough in my identity to brush off such nonsense and then proceed to throw equally strong invective right back at them. This live and let hate situation could continue forever, for all I care.

But what's not appropriate is allowing these fundamentalists' religious precepts to override the equal-protection guarantees of the federal and state constitutions. Contrary to Warren's claims, civil-marriage equality has nothing to do with religion or sectarian morality. Religious conservative don't have to approve of gay marriage, but they shouldn't be able to block it.

(Cross-posted at the DI's main site.)

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