"That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about," he told reporters in Chicago.
The announcement yesterday of Warren's role in the Jan. 20 inauguration prompted an angry response from homosexual-rights activists who decried the Southern California megachurch pastor's vocal support for Proposition 8. The ballot measure, which passed Nov. 4, enshrines in the California constitution a definition of marriage limited to one man and one woman.
Defending his choice, Obama told reporters today he's been a "fierce advocate for equality" for homosexuals and will remain so.
Obama noted that despite his disagreement with Warren on a number of issues, the pastor invited him to speak at Saddleback Church's Global Summit on AIDS and the Church in 2006. Some evangelicals at the time objected to a pro-choice Democrat being given the pulpit of a church that opposes abortion. At last year's AIDS summit, in November, Sen. Hillary Clinton gave a warmly received speech while Obama was among several candidates who presented taped messages via satellite.
In August, Obama appeared with Republican presidential nominee John McCain at Warren's church for a forum in which each candidate was questioned by the pastor for an hour.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., an outspoken homosexual, said he was "very disappointed" with Obama's choice, according to The Hill, and insisted it is irrelevant that Warren had invited Obama to the Saddleback forum, since McCain was there.
"Religious leaders obviously have every right to speak out in opposition to anti-discrimination measures, even in the degrading terms that Rev. Warren has used with regard to same-sex marriage," Frank said. "But that does not confer upon them the right to a place of honor in the inauguration ceremony of a president whose stated commitment to LGBT rights won him the strong support of the great majority of those who support that cause."
Warren, in his first statement after the announcement, commended Obama "for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn't agree on every issue."
"Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America," Warren said.
"The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders," he continued. "I am honored by this opportunity to pray God's blessing on the office of the president and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America's leaders during this critical time in our nation's history."
Yesterday, Joe Solomonese, president of the "gay" rights group Human Rights Campaign, fired off a letter to Obama calling the president-elects choice of Warren "a genuine blow" to homosexuals.
People For the American Way also quickly issued a statement, calling the pick "a grave disappointment."
Rick Warren and Barack Obama at presidential candidate forum in August
Solomonese said to Obama that "by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table."
The homosexual-rights leader cited Warren saying during the Proposition 8 campaign: "There is no need to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population. ... This is not a political issue – it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about."
Solomonese complained Warren "cannot name a single theological issue that he and vehemently, anti-gay theologian James Dobson disagree on."
Homosexuals, Solomonese wrote to Obama, have been "moved by your calls to religious leaders to own up to the homophobia and racism that has stood in the way of combating HIV and AIDS in this country."
"But in this case," he said, "we feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination."
People for the American Way accused Warren of being a true conservative.
"Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance," the statement said.
The group says Warren, author of all-time best-selling hardback, "The Purpose-Driven Life," has "repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors."
"He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists," People for the American Way said. "He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion."