In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter who delivers the benediction at a presidential inaugural. On the other hand, symbolism is important - which is why we should breathe a sigh of relief that pastor Louie Giglio, the Obama inaugural team's first choice, has opted not to show up.

Giglio was outed this week for past remarks that were hostile to gay people ("homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle...it is sin in the eyes of God...it's still a choice like giving in to alcholism, addiction, and overeating"). Given the opportunity to renounce his bigotry, he declined to do so. Instead, he announced yesterday that he would not participate on Inauguration Day - and essentially blamed his critics for driving him out. In his words, "it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration."

What Giglio calls an "agenda" is actually the belief that all Americans should be treated equally. Good riddance, sir.

As Yogi Berra supposedly said, this was deja vu all over again. In January 2009, the same issue popped up when the first Obama inaugural team chose, as its podium pastor, the Rev. Rick Warren - who was (and remains) infamous for equating gay marriage with child molestation and incest; for insisting that gays are, by definition, psychologically "immature"; and for decreeing that homosexuality fits somewhere in "the hierarchy of evil." Warren got the nod anyway, because, as you may recall, January '09 was a time when Obama actually believed he could successfully reach out to conservatives. Warren was a symbolic olive branch. Lots of Obama supporters were furious, but the reverend weathered the storm and delivered his inaugural benediction. His text was innocuous, and the moment passed without incident.

But a lot has happened on gay issues these last four years, developments that should have made Louie Giglio unacceptable at the outset. Obama has done far more than any president to advance equality for gays - abolishing the ban on open military service, endorsing marriage equality (after an inadvertent shove from Joe Biden), and refusing to defend in court the federal Defense of Marriage Act that bars federal benefits to married gay couples. Politically, he owes the gay electorate - which supported him overwhelmingly in November. As for the conservative Christian electorate, which remains hostile to gays, Obama owes them nothing.

Reportedly, the Obama inaugural team tapped Giglio because he shares Obama's concerns about the issue of human trafficking (the team says it didn't know about his past remarks about gays, which means that it failed to fully vet him). But surely, somewhere in this great land, there must be another holy person who cares about human trafficking - without the baggage of declaring (as Giglio did) that gays are the product of a genetic "malfunction."

Naturally, right-wing commentators and religious leaders are furious that Giglio has pulled out. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council complains that "this president appears determined to stir division and create two Americas" - this, from a guy whose entire operation is devoted to sustaining America's cultural divide.

And Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention complains that the Giglio episode is proof that the Obama administration "is not inclusive of those who disagree with them" - this, from the same guy who, three years ago, said that Obama's health care reform "is precisely what the Nazis did." That's how Land talks about people who disagree with him. Besides, I question whether inaugural inclusiveness should be extended to pastors who preach anti-gay bigotry.

It shouldn't be hard to find an inaugural speaker who treats all Americans equally. I can think of several in the time it takes to type this sentence. For instance, there's Louisiana Baptist minister Welton Gaddy, who builds interdenominational bridges as president of the Interfaith Alliance, and who believes in "ministering to churches with a message of inclusion." And there's theologian Jim Wallis, a prominent social justice advocate and the founder of Sojourners, who believes that envangelical Christianity could be a progressive force. When asked recently what a pastor should say on Inauguration Day, he replied: "Use the occasion to remind our political leaders of their responsibility to the common good."

See? How hard was that?

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On a related issue:

Inevitably, some conservatives are contending that Gigilo and Chuck Hagel should be held to the same standard; after all, they say, both guys dissed gays during the same '90s time period. If Giglio doesn't deserve to be on the podium, they say, then Hagel doesn't deserve to be Secretary of Defense.

But that's a false equivalence. As I mentioned above, Giglio this week refused to renounce his extensive homophobic remarks - whereas Hagel has already apologized for his passing remark, and indeed has pledged to sustain and enforce the president's inclusive policies with respect to the military.

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