The first openly gay Episcopal bishop will say a prayer at the Lincoln Memorial for one of President-elect Barack Obama's first inauguration events.
New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson will deliver the invocation at an event on Sunday to kick off inauguration festivities. His selection follows weeks of criticism from gay-rights groups over Obama's decision to have the Rev. Rick Warren give the invocation at his Jan. 20 inauguration. Warren had backed a recent ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in his home state of California.
Robinson has said he was stung by Warren's selection, but still believes Obama will be the most supportive president ever for gay-rights causes.
"There's no question in my mind that he is the president who understands our issues and comes out of a background knowing what it's like to be discriminated against because of who you are," Robinson said Monday. "I think for the first time in a very long time we'll have a friend in the White House."
Robinson was an early Obama supporter, offering advice as well as his endorsement before the New Hampshire primary, which Obama lost to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
'A man who preaches tolerance'
Robinson said he doesn't believe he was asked to participate to calm criticism of Warren. Obama's decision to include clergymen with different views is emblematic of what kind of leader Obama will be, Robinson said.
"What it means for the nation is that Barack Obama is who he told us he was and intends to be, which is a person who unites us," Robinson said. "The fact Rick Warren and I are each giving invocations during inauguration festivities just shows that the new president means to include all Americans."
Presidential Inaugural Committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass said Robinson is one of several religious speakers who reflects Obama's commitment to diversity throughout the inaugural festivities.
"Rev. Robinson was selected on his own merit because he is a man who preaches tolerance and inclusivity, all very important values that he shares with the president-elect," Douglass said.
Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will attend the inaugural kickoff and Obama is expected to speak. Robinson said his prayer will be addressed not only to Barack Obama, but also to the entire nation.
"Given the difficult circumstances we all face and given the fact we have placed so much hope on and responsibility on Barack, I think it's appropriate to remind the nation he's only a human being and he can't do all this by himself," he said. "In fact, all of us will need to play our own part."
Robinson's 2003 consecration has divided his church in the United States and abroad. Last month, theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province.
Warren has offered the use of his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., to conservative Southern California parishes that left the national Episcopal Church.