Steven Waldman

Since Rich Cizik was just booted from his leadership role at the National Association of Evangelicals for supporting civil unions for gays, I found it fascinating that Rick Warren — the leading evangelical pastor in America — basically just said the same thing.
Here’s the relevant passage from a just-released interview with Beliefnet and the Wall Street Journal:

Beliefnet: Do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?
Warren: I don’t know if I’d use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don’t believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.
Beliefnet: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?
Warren: You know, not a problem with me.

Of course the difference between Warren and Cizik is not substantive, it’s that Warren is untouchable — the much beloved “America’s Pastor” — and Cizik has been getting under the skin of religious conservatives for some time. They were looking for a reason to show him the door.
Warren, who supported Proposition 8, made a number of other notable statements on gay marriage and civil unions.
He chided religious conservatives for spending so much more time on gay marriage than divorce. Asked which was a bigger threat to the Ameerican family, divorce or gay marriage, he laughed and declared, “That’s a no brainer. Divorce. There’s no doubt about it.” The reason gay marriage gets more attention, he said, is, “we always love to talk about other sins more than ours.”
But Warren, who pastors Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, did not back off his support for Proposition 8 at all, and his general mindset about gay marriage will still strike many gays as insulting. He says gays marrying would be akin to siblings marrying or an older man marrying a child.
The full Rick Warren interview can be viewed here.
UPDATE: 12/15 Pastor Warren sent us some clarification of his views. They’ve been added to the transcript. The gist:

“I now see you asked about civil UNIONS -and I responded by talking about civil RIGHTS. Sorry. They are two different issues. No American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs. Period. But a civil union is not a civil right. Nowhere in the constitution can you find the “right” to claim that any loving relationship identical to marriage. It’s just not there….
I favor anyone being able to make anyone else the beneficiary of their health or life insurance coverage. If I am willing to pay for it, I should be able to put a friend, partner, relative, or stranger on my coverage. No one should be turned away from seeing a friend in the hospital. But visiting rights are a non-issue in California! Since 1999, California has had a domestic partnership law that grants gay couples visiting rights and all the other rights. Prop 8 had no -zero -effect on those rights.
1. God, who always acts out of love and does what is best for us, thought up sex. Sex was God’s idea, not ours. Like fire, and many other things God gave us, sex can be used for good, or abused in ways that harm. The Designer of sex has clearly and repeatedly said that he created sex exclusively for husbands and wives in marriage. Whenever God’s parameters are violated, it causes broken hearts, broken families, emotional hurt and shame, painful memories, and many other destructive consequences. There would be so STDs in our world if we all played by the rules.
2. God gives me the free choice to follow his commands or willfully disobey them so I must allow others to have that same free choice. Loving, trusting, and obeying God cannot be forced. In America, people already have the civil right to live as they wish.
3. If anyone, whether unfaithful spouses, or unmarried couples, or homosexuals or anyone else think they are smarter than God and chooses to disobey God’s sexual instructions, it is not the US government’s role to take away their choice. But neither is it the government’s role to classify just any “loving” relationship as a marriage. A committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is not a marriage. Two lovers living together is a not a marriage. Incest is not marriage. A domestic partnership or even a civil union is still not marriage.
4. Much of this debate is not really about civil rights, but a desire for approval. The fact that 70% of blacks supported Prop 8 shows they don’t believe it is a civil rights issue. Gays in California already have their rights. What they desire is approval and validation from those who disagree with them, and they are willing to force it by law if necessary. Any disapproval is quickly labeled “hate speech. Imagine if we held that standard in every other disagreement Americans have? There would be no free speech. That’s why, on the traditional marriage side, many saw Prop 8 as a free speech issue: Don’t force me to validate a lifestyle I disagree with. It is not the same as marriage.” And many saw the Teacher’s Union contribution of $3 million against Prop 8, as a effort to insure that children would be taught to approve what most parents disapprove of.

UPDATE #2: Warren’s comments on gay marriage have stirred a lot of anger in the blogosphere — especially his statement that he supported Prop 8 on freedom of speech grounds. Andrew Sullivan writes:

“Well, yes, you could be considered as engaging in hate speech. But so what? As long as there are no criminal or legal penalties for religious speech – as guaranteed by the First Amendment – being called a hater is part of living in a democracy. I should say that I would not use the term “hate” for a principled theological defense of heterosexual normativity. And I have engaged very deeply with the arguments on those grounds. But fanning paranoia among Christians that somehow civil gay equality requires that they lose any free speech rights whatsoever is irresponsible, and presumably a conscious untruth.
If Rick Warren refuses to acknowledge my husband as my husband, fine. But my pointing this out is not a denial of his free speech in any way.”

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