DOVER, N.H. -- Hoping to defuse a crisis among gay supporters -- but not alienate black evangelical voters in South Carolina -- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told gay activists Wednesday a gay minister will open weekend gospel concerts, while a singer with an anti-gay reputation will remain on the bill.
"I want to make sure that we are communicating the inclusive nature of this campaign, that I am continuing to reach out in the faith community," Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times.
"But I did want to do so in a way that is consistent with my strong belief in equal rights for gays and lesbians. And I don't want there to be any confusion about that."
The balancing act is the result of booking Grammy-winning gospel star Donnie McClurkin as one of the acts on a three-night Obama "Embrace the Change" gospel tour in South Carolina aimed at African Americans.
Criticism over McClurkin -- who performed at the 2004 GOP convention and says he used to be gay -- has been building over the last several days, fueled by Web-based commentators. At the same time, the Obama camp is on the defensive on another front because a Nevada African Americans for Obama event launched Wednesday included boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, who has domestic-violence convictions on his record.
The Obama campaign was not aware of McClurkin's views, and it seems Mayweather's legal problems escaped campaign notice.
On Wednesday, concerns about McClurkin reached a tipping point in the Obama campaign. The solution settled upon was to have a South Carolina gay minister -- identified as the Rev. Arthur Sidden -- deliver an invocation.
At midday, the Obama team held two phone conferences with gay backers -- one hosted by Obama and another with deputy campaign chief Steve Hildebrand and University of Pennsylvania law Professor Tobias Wolff, who chairs the campaign's lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender policy committee.
Later in the afternoon, Obama talked with Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. Solomonese said after the call he was disappointed Obama did not drop McClurkin.
"There is no gospel in Donnie McClurkin's message for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. That's a message that certainly doesn't belong on any presidential candidate's stage," Solomonese said.
During one of the conference calls, according to a participant, the decision to have a gay minister deliver an invocation at the three gospel concerts was explained as Obama "not wanting to choose among elements of his Democratic base. ... So considering Obama is a big-tent guy, the idea was to form a dialogue among contrarian interests."
Gay outreach has been important to Democratic contenders because they are a powerful donor and voting bloc.