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Gay rights advocates are criticizing President-elect Barack Obama‘s choice of a popular evangelical minister to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, saying it shows disrespect for a constituency that strongly supported his campaign.

Pastor Rick Warren, a best-selling author and leader of a Southern California megachurch, is one of a new breed of evangelicals who stress the need for action on social issues such as reducing poverty and protecting the environment, alongside traditional theological themes. But the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization, said Warren’s opposition to gay marriage is a sign of intolerance.

“We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of the architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination,” the group said in a letter to Obama, asking him to reconsider.

Obama’s selection of Warren is seen as a signal to religious conservatives that the president-elect will listen to their views. During the campaign, Warren interviewed Obama and Republican John McCain in a widely watched television program that focused on religious concerns.

Gay rights advocates say they are troubled by Warren’s support for a California ballot initiative banning gay marriage, approved by voters last month. “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 letter said.

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