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Gay-rights supporters protest Rick Warren's role at inauguration

About 100 demonstrate outside Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, upset that the pastor opposed to gay marriage was chosen by Obama to give the invocation.

January 19, 2009|Tony Barboza

About 100 gay-rights supporters staged a peaceful protest Sunday outside Saddleback Church in Lake Forest against pastor Rick Warren, a gay-marriage opponent tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to give the invocation at Tuesday's inauguration.

Stationed on two street corners downhill from the sprawling church campus, the demonstrators waved rainbow flags and signs, chanted "equal rights" and voiced disappointment with Obama for going ahead with his choice of Warren in the face of continued outcry in the gay community.

"President-elect Obama made a huge misjudgment," said Jenny Mirmak, 44, of Irvine, an Obama supporter who demonstrated with her husband and 7-year-old daughter. "The Democratic Party has always counted on the gay and lesbian community for their votes, then thrown them under the bus once they get elected."

Warren's chief of staff, David Chrzan, declined to comment, other than to say that Warren did not deliver a sermon at the Lake Forest church Sunday.

After church services, several parishioners said they were pleased -- and honored -- that Warren would be a part of the inauguration.

"He will be able to spread the truth about Jesus Christ and how important it is to our lives," said Arlene Hewitt, 46, of Mission Viejo.

Kathy Cox, 55, of Newport Beach voiced no ill will toward the demonstrators.

"They have the right to protest, but as Christians we have the right to believe what we want to believe," said Cox, a five-year member of Saddleback Church, whose 22,000 weekend parishioners make it one of the nation's largest congregations.

Obama and Warren have shared prominent stages before.

The president-elect appeared at a 2006 global AIDS conference at the church, a move for which Warren was criticized by fellow evangelical Christians.

During the fall presidential campaign, Warren separately interviewed Obama and then-Republican nominee Sen. John McCain at the church for a "Civil Forum on the Presidency."

At Sunday's protest, some expressed sympathy for Obama's attempt to reach out to social conservatives by including Warren in the inauguration. But others said it was inappropriate to give Warren such a prominent place on the national stage because of his support for Proposition 8, the Constitutional amendment approved by California voters in fall banning same-sex marriage in the state.

Pat McFarland, 50, of Rancho Santa Margarita said she expects the inauguration to evoke mixed feelings.

"Tuesday is going to be kind of like election day," said McFarland, who married her partner of 19 years in September and was saddened when Proposition 8 passed two months later. "We'll be excited, but Rick Warren is there to bring us down."

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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