Monday, December 22, 2008

The Fallacy of Obama's "Diversity" Defense: Rick Warren's Views Already Have a Place at the Table


Obama's decision to invite Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration has sparked heated debate. Many GLBT activists and other liberals oppose the invitation because Warren has made negative comments concerning gay rights and abortion.

During one interview, Warren likened same-sex marriage to incest, statutory rape, and polygamy. He also compared abortion to the Holocaust. Warren's participation in the inauguration has angered liberals who find his views antithetical to the change they seek through Obama.

Warren, Proposition 8 and GLBT Vulnerability
Warren was an outspoken supporter of Proposition 8, a recently enacted amendment to the California constitution that defines marriage in heterosexual terms. The passage of Proposition 8 caused a lot of angst among GLBT activists, many of whom naively believed the measure would fail given the overwhelming support for Obama in the state.

Proposition 8 reverses a ruling of the California Supreme Court which held that prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the state constitution. Consequently, GLBT people feel particularly stung because a majority of California voters callously decided to deprive them of newly obtained and hard-fought rights.

Viewed in light of this recent history, Obama's inclusion of Warren in his inauguration has probably generated more outrage than it would have normally caused. To many GLBT people, Warren represents the painful status quo, not the progress that Obama has so frequently promised.

Obama's Thousand Points of Light
Obama and his supporters have pushed back against his critics. Obama defends the inclusion of Warren in the inauguration as part of his effort to reach across the aisle and include all voices at the table:

I've . . . said . . . that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues. . . .[W]e'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 and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

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. That's part of the magic of this country, is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated.
Although Obama's explanation sounds like an amicable gesture, his public disassociation from Reverend Wright, his controversial minister of 20 years, undermines the credibility of his professed tolerance for "noisy and opinionated" viewpoints. Granted, he was a longtime member of Wright's church, but once Wright became a political liability, Obama let him go.

But even assuming the sincerity of Obama's comments, Warren's participation in the inauguration does not enhance the "diversity" of viewpoints because, stripped of their more colorful elements (e.g., comparing same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia) Warren's comments represent mainstream perspectives on gay rights -- including those views that Obama himself embraces.

Same-Sex Marriage and Popular Opinion: Warren's Views Already at the Table
Although Obama defeated John McCain by a 20-point margin in California, a slight majority of voters in the state cast votes in favor of Proposition 8. Outside of California, however, the public strongly disagrees with same-sex marriage; a growing number, however, favor other measures such as "civil unions."

A CBS poll released in June finds that only 30 percent of Americans favor legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Another 28 percent favor "civil unions," while 36 percent oppose any legal recognition of same-sex intimate relationships. The poll shows the greatest level of support for same-sex marriage since 2004 when CBS began surveying public opinion on this issue. The paltry number of Americans who endorse same-sex marriage actually represents an improvement over the recent past.

Public opinion on this subject varies slightly with political party affiliation, but strong majorities of both major parties oppose same-sex marriage. The poll finds that only 36 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Similarly, only 34 percent of independent voters support same-sex marriage. Other major polling data confirm these results

Given the results of public opinion polls, it should not surprise readers that no major presidential candidate supported same-sex marriage. Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and all of the GOP candidates stated their opposition to same-sex marriage, although the Democrats supported civil unions. Advocates of Proposition 8 made robocalls that used Obama's public statements expressing his religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Remarkably, Obama has stated that he opposes same-sex marriage and laws like Proposition 8 that ban same-sex marriage.

Obama, Warren, and the vast majority of Americans -- Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike -- all oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. Accordingly, Warren's participation in the inauguration does not represent political diversity or a noble effort to reach across the political divide as Obama and his supporters claim. Warren represents mainstream discriminatory viewpoints, rather than outsider perspectives. With Warren and Obama united on same-sex marriage, Warren cannot represent difference. He does differ from Obama on choice, but GLBT protests prompted Obama's defense of Warren.

The True Diversity: Reverend Joseph Lowery
By all accounts Joseph Lowery is a champion of civil rights with a very long history in the struggle for justice. Lowery will deliver the benediction at Obama's inauguration. Obama has cited to Lowery as proof that he seeks a diversity of views. In other words, Lowery offers a counter balance to Warren.

Although Lowery is an antidote to Warren in many ways, his support for same-sex marriage remains unclear. Most websites have simply repeated the same description of Lowery -- portraying him as a champion of gay rights and same-sex marriage. The web descriptions validate his support for gay people becoming clergy and their entitlement to legal equality and human rights. But the popular reports on his record do not reveal definitive support for same-sex marriage. Here is the full quotation that informs most of the reporting on this issue:

And in 2004, he told ABC News he supported same sex marriage: "When you talk about the law discriminating, the law granting a privilege here, and a right here and denying it there, that's a civil rights issue. And I can't take that away from anybody."
This comment does not establish Lowery's unequivocal support for same-sex marriage. Obama himself advocates equality and human rights but disapproves of same-sex marriage, and Warren says he does not want the law to deny "rights" to people, but he refuses to support the "redefinition" of marriage. Regardless, Lowery has a longer and deeper record of progressive activism than Warren.

Does Lowery's presence neutralize Warren?
Many of Obama's supporters have argued that Lowery's presence should neutralize liberal concerns over Warren. Although I believe that Lowery's participation certainly helps to stabilize things, the assertion that the two men's participation in the inauguration will create a politically neutral result is not without complications.

Some harms are so great that ordinary mitigating gestures cannot remedy them. Because most of the country, including Obama, oppose same-sex marriage, Lowery's presence alone cannot counteract GLBT fear of majoritarian discrimination. Furthermore, Warren's comments go beyond typical opposition to same-sex marriage. Relying upon pernicious anti-gay stereotypes, Warren links gay relationships to incest, polygamy and pedophilia. The embrace of such deeply homophobic stereotypes probably injures GLBT people more than mere political or religious opposition to same-sex marriage. It is hard to imagine Lowery counteracting the negative effects of Warren's words.

Also, the recent bruising GLBT people received from the passage of Proposition 8 means that Warren's participation will stoke their sense of political vulnerability. Because Obama shares Warren's position on the subject, many gays and lesbians now fear that he will abandon them on other issues, such as Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Politically, he could probably do so without adverse political consequences, given the pervasive public opposition to or tepid support of gay rights.

From Poetry to Prose: Implementing Policy After Aretha Sings
Although it is highly likely that Warren will remain a participant in the inauguration, this situation has sparked a healthy debate among liberals about how Obama's "change" might look. Gays and lesbians were already mobilized over Proposition 8, and they are even more vigilant as a result of Obama's decision to include Warren in the inauguration. Although many liberals will ultimately accept Obama's desire to have many viewpoints at the table, actual policy decisions will require concrete choices that cannot always reflect the views of all people. If the inclusion of Warren indicates that Obama will adhere to his centrist and safe politics on gay rights and other causes, then his administration will continue to experience conflicts with liberal and progressive advocates.

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19 comments:

Daniel said...

Obama really has no reason to cater to the GLBT set... With very few exceptions there is 0 chance that base will ever support a Republican, so he can instead choose to support the centrist middle opinions. The GLBT block is pretty much left to voicing thier displeasure, since in the end that really is the sum total of their power (even if Obama did nothing for them in the next 4 years they would hold their nose and still vote for him as they are more afraid of then potential negatives that could come from a Republican). So in effect Obama can do as much or as little as he wants, and this seems to be an indicator that he is leaning toward the latter.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Agreed. I think at some point, there is a danger that a broader set of liberals would have concerns, but, as with all demographics, the glbt community will feel the heat before others become upset with moderate sexual orientation policies. The same would apply to race, gender, and other groups.

The Democrats, like Republicans, have always danced around more marginal elements of the party. It has abandoned blacks, labor, gays and lesbians for political expediency. The upcoming Republicans struggle will involve how to approach the religious right. On some level, Obama is smart reaching out to them. Unless they can feel happy with Republicans, maybe he can pluck some away -- even if that means abandoning liberals. Back in the 90s, the Left called this TRIANGULATION. Today, it's called "reaching across the aisle."

Anna Belle said...

Wow, I love this analysis. Good work, even tone, telling the truth; what's not to like? Thank you.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Anna Belle -- hey thanks! With reviews like that, you are always welcome on Dissenting Justice!

Gary said...

Your article was fun to read. It's sad and lacks intellectual stamina though to use terms like homophobia and civil rights without contextuallizing or defining them. Basicly in your eyes if someone disagrees they are homophobic, or racist. Warren's comparisons are fair and if you disagree with them you should outline why.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Gary, you make some very large claims after reading (actually, "misreading") just one article of mine on this subject. My argument about the fallacy of Obama's diversity defense stands whether I think Warren is homophobic or not. It's irrelevant. Furthermore, if you would actually dig a little deeper, you would find a lot of insight regarding how I think. I do not agree with a lot of "regulars" on here, but this is a space that welcomes dissent. Accordingly, feel free to return.

PS: If you want to know why I reject Warren's comparison, read this: Sorry, Adam and Steve: If You Get Married, We Must Allow the Smith Triplets to Wed Each Other As Well!

LuisKassendraRomi said...

We believe that there was no point of writing this article because the media will find any and everything to write about. People are entitled to their own opinions, and they should be able to speak thier mind wihout people making a big deal about what they said. So we're ok with it, it is also your own opinion but you shouldn't waste your time writing it for other people that is never going to change their mind.

Alejandra,Maria and Jennifer said...

Many of us believe that you put to much contreversy about the same sex marriages.i think that this shouldnt be a issue involved with the constitution because same sex couples should have the same rights as all the other people. Obama barely started precidency there are more important things to worry about,rather then worrying if the same sex couples get married.

Marla Araceli Jenny Irving said...

We thought this article was intersting because it brought up important issues about the reverands that spoke in the inaguration. you wrote about what each reverand thought about same-sex marriage. You backed it up with statistics and opinions from both men. You also included Preside Obama's views on gay marriage. The article was good, but also sad bacause how are you going to sat that in America, everybody has rights yet some people aren't allowed to marry? Also, just because someone doesn't agree, doesn't mean they're homophobic.

april,ruth,doug said...

We think that people should marry whoever they love whether is a gay or a girl. I also feel that it was a waste of time to write this article because the media well write anything to draw people attention but it it doesent matter because it still wouldn't change how people feel and live I think that America got alot of other things to worry about are change then worrying about the same sex marriage are what people are doing in there personal life. But the media finds anything that was said to put out there to get people opinion and its not right so this article was a waste of time writing and should of be left alone.because we are all humans and so are they so the rights we have they should to

Ricardo & Adrianne said...

We think that the article could have used shorter and more efficent quotes to support your idea. In some instances the facts and the points became repeative. Honestly,we beleive that it was good to have two Reverends with opposing views at the inaugation so that both parties were represented. Obama selected them becasue of their character amd not so much for their personal beliefs, for say. We think that the GLBT is over reacting to the situation because Rev. Warren is not in their favor.

RicardoAdrianne said...

We think that the article could have used shorter and more efficent quotes to support your idea. In some instances the facts and the points became repeative. Honestly,we beleive that it was good to have two Reverends with opposing views at the inaugation so that both parties were represented. Obama selected them becasue of their character amd not so much for their personal beliefs, for say. We think that the GLBT is over reacting to the situation because Rev. Warren is not in their favor.

ricardoadrianne said...

We think that the article could have used shorter and more efficent quotes to support your idea. In some instances the facts and the points became repeative. Honestly,we beleive that it was good to have two Reverends with opposing views at the inaugation so that both parties were represented. Obama selected them becasue of their character amd not so much for their personal beliefs, for say. We think that the GLBT is over reacting to the situation because Rev. Warren is not in their favor.

Diana Alicia Eddie Cythnia said...

Your article didn't really make sense due to not making it clear enough for us to understand. You gave more facts rather than your own opinion which is what we wanted to hear. You weren't making Obama's postion clear. It seemed like you just put your facts on a piece of paper but didn't really explain your thoughts. Dude like what do these facts mean?

Diana Alicia Eddie Cythnia said...

Your article didn't really make sense due to not making it clear enough for us to understand. You gave more facts rather than your own opinion which is what we wanted to hear. You weren't making Obama's postion clear. It seemed like you just put your facts on a piece of paper but didn't really explain your thoughts. Dude like what do these facts mean?

Nidia, Lety, Jose, Karina, Diana V said...

We dont agree with what you did. Personally right now we find it unnecesary to make a big contreversy over gay and lesbian marriages. There are more important things that should be addressed, for example the economy. The economy is in it's worst time right now and its constently going down. We should have articles that inform people over what is happening with the economy. we are not saying that gays and lesbians right are not important but we have greater things to worry about.

AndyS.,MarP, EriP, DomoC. said...

You should make your points more clear to know what side you are on. Your article is really confusing on Obama's feelings about Prop 8. January 20, 2009 was a historical day, therefore there was no need what so ever to come up with this controversial article. Another reason why this article is tremendously confusing is because of the massive grammatical errors. In conclusion if you are going to write another article make your points clearer, and get someone to proofread it.

A.L. M.M. L.F. N.O. said...

Obama is just trying to bring diversity. Obama said that it doesn't matter the different opinions that we have but everyone should come together. You are just hating and trying to make Obama look bad.

Yesenia Q, Jenny Y, Omar Z, and Hilda R said...

This article makes no sense. It was very contradicting. I and my peers had a misunderstanding about the Holocaust and the abortion relations. We need to be provided with more examples. Obama barley started his presidency term and there is already a controversy being made over a minor event, rather than focusing in bigger ideas.

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