The festivities are still more than a week away, but President Obama and his inaugural planning team already are suffering political pain as they lay out the agenda for the big day.
The latest hit came Thursday when the evangelical Atlanta pastor whom Mr. Obama helped pick to give the benediction for the inauguration abruptly withdrew amid mounting complaints from gay-rights groups over his past comments condemning homosexuality and referring to it as a “sin.”
The Rev. Louie Giglio, pastor of the Passion City Church in Atlanta, whose selection for the Jan. 21 ceremony had just been announced Tuesday, said he withdrew because his participation would “be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”
“Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the president’s invitation,” Mr. Giglio said.
Mr. Giglio’s participation, in light of his past remarks, also would have made for an awkward pairing given the pick for Mr. Obama’s inaugural poet, Richard Blanco. Mr. Blanco, 44, will be the first Hispanic and the first openly gay man to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.
While gay-rights activists were quick to condemn Mr. Giglio’s comments, Mr. Obama’s inaugural organizers were taking heat from conservative groups who said the pastor had done nothing wrong and that his withdrawal was a victory for intolerance and political correctness.
“What is shocking is the intolerance of the Obama team that put such a high priority on forced acceptance of homosexuality that they totally disregard Pastor Giglio’s life work combating human trafficking,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “What we are seeing is the inauguration of a new era of religious intolerance in America.”
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said in a blog post, “The bullies at Big Gay won this round. Bigotry wins, while tolerance, diversity, truth, religious liberty and freedom of speech lose.”
At least one Hispanic group expressed unhappiness that Mr. Giglio had been so unceremoniously cast aside.
“I am very, very disappointed with Lou’s not participating in the inauguration,” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, calling the Atlanta cleric “a good Christian, a conservative pastor with a wonderful church.”
“I hope and pray that the inaugural committee has the wisdom and the maturity and the broad optics to replace Lou with someone of kindred spirit,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “If not, then it becomes a de facto misbalanced or misaligned presentation, without different viewpoints.”
Critics highlighted remarks from a mid-1990s sermon Mr. Giglio gave in which he said: “If you look at the counsel of the word of God, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle. … Homosexuality is not just a sexual preference, homosexuality is not ‘gay,’ but homosexuality is sin. It is sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin according to the word of God.”
The liberal blog ThinkProgress, an arm of the Center for American Progress, blasted Mr. Giglio for what it called his “rabidly anti-LGBT views.”
Addie Whisenant, a spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said Mr. Giglio’s past comments “don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural.” Ms. Whisenant said the inaugural organizers had not been aware of Mr. Giglio’s past comments at the time he was selected.