Inaugural Prayer Marks Changed LGBT Rights Landscape

“[W]ith your blessing, we will see that we are created in your image, whether brown, black or white; male or female; first-generation immigrant American or daughter of the American Revolution; gay or straight; rich or poor,” Rev. Luis Leon said Monday.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden listen as Rev. Luis Leon gives the benediction during the presidential inauguration January 21, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Rev. Luis Leon’s closing prayer at President Obama’s inauguration Monday was a strong call for fighting prejudice and “fear of those different than us” — and a sign of the success of the LGBT rights movement over the course of Obama’s first term.

Leon’s views stood in marked contrast from those of other religious leaders whose selection to give public prayers at some of Obama’s biggest events have drawn criticism for their divisive views.

His words, echoing Obama’s own inclusion of gay rights as core civil rights, provided audible proof of how far the ground has shifted on LGBT issues since Obama took the oath of office four years ago.

Leon, of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, was the second choice to give the inaugural benediction Monday. He replaced Rev. Louie Giglio, whose past comments about homosexuality had led to an outcry from some LGBT advocates and allies and, then, Giglio’s removal from the program.

Although Leon did not directly address the issues that had arisen with Giglio, his benediction clearly served as a reaffirmation of those who questioned Giglio:

“We pray that you will bless us with your continued presence, because without it, hatred and arrogance will infect our hearts, but with your blessing we know that we can break down the walls that separate us.

We pray for your blessing today, because without it, mistrust, prejudice and rancor will rule our hearts, but with the blessing of your presence, we know that we can renew the ties of mutual regard which can best form our civic life.

We pray for your blessing, because without it, suspicion, despair, and fear of those different from us will be our rule of life, but with your blessing we can see each other created in your image ….

We pray for your blessing, because without it, we will see only what the eye can see, but with your blessing, we will see that we are created in your image, whether brown, black or white; male or female; first-generation immigrant American or Daughter of the American Revolution; gay or straight, rich or poor.”

Obama’s first inaugural opened with an invocation from Pastor Rick Warren, who had supported California’s Proposition 8 that stopped same-sex couples from being able to marry in the state. Obama’s invitation to Warren created what Huffington Post’s Sam Stein called Obama’s “first real rift with progressives” at the time.

Additionally, the benediction at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012 was given by Cardinal James Dolan, a choice that drew some criticism from the left due to his strong opposition to Obama’s positions on abortion and gay rights.

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Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at
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