President-elect Barack Obama has invited evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration in January, sparking disgruntled complaints from the gay rights camp angry at Warren for supporting the anti-gay marriage amendment, Proposition 8, in California.
Obama defended his choice on Thursday saying the inauguration will feature "a wide range of viewpoints," according to CNN.
"And that's how it should be, because that's what America is about," Obama said in response to a question at a news conference on the two leaders' different views on social issues. "That's part of the magic of this country is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated."
Warren has been open about his support for Proposition 8, which overturned California's law allowing same-sex marriage.
"For 5,000 years, every culture and every religion – not just Christianity – has defined marriage as a contract between men and women," Warren wrote in a newsletter to his congregation. "There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population."
President-elect Obama and vice president-elect Joe Biden, however, supported the California Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Both have stated that they oppose same-sex marriage, but they also oppose a constitutional ban of the practice.
Rather than homosexual marriage, they both support same-sex civil unions.
"I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans," Obama said in defense of his support for gay rights after picking Warren to join the inauguration line-up. "It is something that I have been consistent on, and I intend to continue to be consistent on during my presidency."
But Liberal rights group People for the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert said she is "deeply disappointed" that Obama has given Warren a powerful platform at the inauguration.
"There is no substantive difference between Rick Warren and James Dobson," Kolbert said to CNN. "The only difference is tone. His tone is moderate, but his ideas are radical."
In an interview with Beliefnet.com earlier this week, Warren clarified that while he does not support gay marriage and wouldn't use the term same-sex civil unions, he does, however, believe in "full equal rights" for everyone in America.
"I don't believe that we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles," he said. "So I fully support equal rights."
He said the reason why he supported Proposition 8 is because of free speech. The California Supreme Court overode the voice of the people, he said.
"There were all kinds of threats that if [Proposition 8] did not pass, then any pastor could be considered doing hate speech if he shared his views that he didn't think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships, and that would be hate speech," Warren said.
The evangelical pastor also responded to critics who call him homophobic, arguing that it's a groundless accusation because he has many gay friends, has eaten dinner at gay homes, and Saddleback Church has done more for people with AIDS than any church in the world.
"Kay and I have given millions of dollars out of the Purpose Driven Life helping people who got AIDS through gay relationship," Warren said. "So they can't accuse me of homophobia. I just don't believe in the redefinition of marriage."
Also during the interview, Warren stated without hesitation that divorce is an even bigger threat to the American families than gay marriage.
"We always love to talk about other's sins more than ours," the megachurch pastor said in response to why Christians talk about gay marriage more than divorce. "My sins are perfectly acceptable; your sins are hideous and evil," he joked.
The heat President-elect Obama is currently enduring from his constituents for inviting Warren is similar to the anger directed at Warren by conservatives when he invited Obama to speak at his Saddleback Church for an HIV/AIDS conference in 2006.
At that time, Warren had defended his decision by explaining that while the two may disagree on abortion and some homosexual-related issues, the two agree and can work together on advocating for the poor and fighting against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
While Warren will be delivering the invocation at the inauguration, the benediction will be left to the Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.