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Pastor Rick Warren, the famous leader of Lake Forest's Saddleback Church, became a lightning rod in the same-sex marriage controversy when he was chosen to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration. Yet he didn't give his opponents anything to shout about Tuesday, offering a prayer that was short, inspirational and above all uncontroversial. That points up an uncomfortable truth for proponents of gay rights: Warren may not be as big a problem as the president he blessed.
Warren, who has infuriated many by equating homosexual unions with incest, child molestation and polygamy, is entitled to his religious beliefs. President Obama is too, but on Tuesday he swore allegiance to a document quite separate from the Bible: the U.S. Constitution, which forbids all forms of discrimination. Obama showed how clearly he understood that in his inaugural address, when he said: "The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
It is impossible to adhere to those principles while also proposing that some citizens should have fewer rights than others for no better reason than the majority disapproves of their sexual preference. Obama claims not to support such discrimination, but his views on the issue are an embarrassing muddle; he opposed Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban, yet says unequivocally that he believes "marriage" is strictly between one man and one woman.
Obama is caught up in semantics, apparently believing that gays and lesbians should be allowed to engage in civil unions with all the rights of marriage, as long as they aren't called marriages. That's an evasion that was rightly rejected in May by the California Supreme Court when it overturned a previous ban on same-sex marriage, because such semantic distinctions tend to cast doubt on a union's legitimacy.
At the time of Obama's birth in 1961, some states would not have allowed his interracial parents to marry. He, of all people, should know better.