Is Acceptance of Civil Gay Marriage Now a Litmus Test for the Democrats?

Yesterday, the White House tapped The Reverend Luis Leon, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, to give the benediction to President Obama’s second inauguration. Rev. Leon replaces Reverend Louie Giglio, pastor of the Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA, who resigned earlier this week after a 15-year old sermon surfaced where he adamantly argued that Christians ought to prevent homosexuality from becoming a norm in American society with full-standing with any other “lifestyle.”

According to¬†Presidential Inaugural Committee spokesperson Addie Whisenant, this revised selection of Rev. Leon symbolizes the idea that whoever is invited to participate in the inauguration ought to have “beliefs [that] reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.” As someone who teaches at an Episcopal Divinity School, I applaud the choice. Inauguration day ought to be a day with limited controversy, a celebration of the possibilities of American leadership.

But, there is cause for concern. The controversy that forced Rev. Giglio to resign, cuts to the core of Democratic politics. President Obama’s election coalition (and by extension, the Democratic coalition) is made of people who support full gay rights in the form of same-sex marriage and those who oppose it. But this controversy, as well as some of the left-leaning controversy surrounding the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense suggests that a litmus test is starting to develop in the Democratic party. If one opposes same-sex marriage or has spoken anti-gay sentiments in the distant past, one is no longer welcome in the big Democratic tent.

Such a litmus test could damage the ability for those who disagree on this issue, but agree on so much more from actually working together. Rev. Giglio was invited because of his widely-celebrated work opposing human sex trafficking. The president’s invitation to him represents yet another outreach to a “friendly face” of the evangelical movement into his coalition (see. Rick Warren, 2009 inauguration). This outreach is entirely consistent with President Obama’s pathos as one who seeks to build bridges.

A litmus test on gay marriage undoes all of that. Some of my liberal friends are certain that this is a good thing. While I may agree that gay marriage is a social justice issue, I wonder whether it is prudent for democrats to make it a demarcation of who is and is not a “good” democrat. The line does need to be drawn somewhere, but what is the consequence of drawing the line here. Can we at least talk about it first?


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