Obama's new pastor controversy -- at inauguration

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama has chosen a pastor who opposes gay marriage as a speaker at his inauguration, creating a commotion over what inclusiveness will mean for his administration.

Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren participates in a panel discussion during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York in this September 26, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

Obama chose Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor of the Southern California megachurch Saddleback, to give the invocation when he takes office in January. A gay rights advocate called the pick appalling.

The president-elect said on Thursday he held views “absolutely contrary” to Warren on gay rights and abortion and described himself as “a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americans.”

“During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that’s how it should be, because that’s what America is about. That’s part of the magic of this country ... that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated,” he said.

Warren is known as an evangelical focused on fighting poverty and disease, including AIDS in Africa, but he also advocated California Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban passed by voters last month.

“I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony,” Warren said in a statement on Thursday. “Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.”

Obama opposed California’s ban on gay marriage. He generally has said he supports equal rights under the law for same-sex couples.

“He selected someone who actively worked to eliminate the rights of me and millions of others,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California and a leader in the fight against Prop 8, which is in effect while it is challenged in court.

The choice was “appalling” he added. “If that’s Obama’s idea of a new day, we are in a lot of trouble.”

Some religious conservatives said they welcomed the selection, noting it indicated among other things that Obama was prepared to reach out to them.

“I think it’s an excellent choice. Rick Warren is loved by millions of people ... radical gays don’t like him but most people do,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, told Reuters.

“Had Obama been so stupid as to choose a lesbian minister, all the attention would be on the minister and not the person becoming president. But if Obama is reaching out to social conservatives it would be plain stupid of them to close the door on him,” he said.

Warren in August hosted a forum between Obama and his Republican opponent in the White House race, John McCain.

Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Dallas and Jennifer Martinez in San Francisco; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney