By Margaret M. Russell, Professor of Law at Santa Clara Law, and Equal Justice Society board member
Like many in the Bay Area, I can hardly wait for Inauguration Day. Weeks before the election, I felt impelled to book my flight to DC because this would be a joyous moment I could not miss. An astonishing array of people of ALL political, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, religious and non-religious backgrounds united to elect Obama. The fact that this groundswell produced the first African-American President is — still — almost beyond belief. Like Obama, I am a multi-racial African-American from a nonprivileged background. So when I look at that stage on Inauguration Day to see faces and hear voices reflecting who I am, it promises to be magical.
It will also be painful. Obama’s choice of minister Rick Warren to provide the invocation is inclusive to some, but dispiriting to those of us who view LGBT equality as a matter of full human rights. Warren’s leadership against poverty is admirable, but his leadership against gay and lesbian rights is not. I am a religious person and I am not gay, yet I felt a kick to the gut when he was chosen. Some in the LGBT community feel effectively disinvited from the celebration. Others point out that the other minister in the ceremony will be Joseph Lowery, a civil rights icon who ardently defends gay and lesbian rights. Obama himself has reiterated his “fierce” advocacy of such equality — and I believe him. But I wonder if the contrapuntal “balancing” of Warren and Lowery truly equals the music of inclusivity. It might just be an uneasy mix of church and state with the effect of further neutralizing the LGBT community.
The Supreme Court long ago upheld the constitutionality of brief ceremonial prayers as part of governmental traditions such as inaugurations. Nevertheless, we would do well to remember the dangers of government endorsement of religion as possibly sending a message to non-adherents that they are outsiders, and not full members of the political community. Since a salient part of Warren’s religious work has been specifically to exclude gays and lesbians from the political community, it is easy for me to understand why some will not feel very “blessed” by his invocation.
If Warren’s participation signals to gays and lesbians that they are outsiders, it might help if the rest of us signal to the world that we are all in this together. Some might wear a flag lapel pin to the inauguration to affirm their patriotism. I plan to wear the colors of the rainbow flag. I hope that others will do so as well.