Gospel singer Donnie McClurkin sings during the 17th Annual Stellar Awards in Atlanta in 2002. (AP Photo/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnny Crawford)
It began as a simple three-day gospel tour through South Carolina designed to build support for Barack Obama among African-American voters. But this weekend's event has become a major headache for Obama's campaign, which is now trying to quell a furor.
One of the singers scheduled to perform on Obama's "Embrace the Change" tour is Donnie McClurkin, a Grammy-winning artist who has said homosexuality is a "curse" that was cured in him and can be cured in others. Obama has disavowed McClurkin's past remarks, but the campaign has resisted calls to remove McClurkin from the program.
But earlier today, according to The Politico, campaign advisers held a conference call with gay supporters and told them an openly gay minister would now open this weekend's concerts. (A source says the minister is the Rev. Andy Sidden, a United Church of Christ pastor in Columbia, SC.) Obama's advisers also asked supporters to contact the Human Rights Campaign, a leading national gay rights organization, and urge the group not to criticize the senator, The Politico reported. The Human Rights Campaign is expected to issue a statement shortly.
It's a delicate balance Obama must strike here: He can't afford to alienate gay and lesbian supporters, but nor can he risk an affront to culturally conservative black voters in an important primary state.
UPDATE: Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, just released the following statement:
"I spoke with Sen. Barack Obama today and expressed to him our community's disappointment for his decision to continue to remain associated with Rev. McClurkin, an anti-gay preacher who states the need to 'break the curse of homosexuality.' 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."
"I did thank him for announcing he would be adding an openly gay minister as part of the tour and for his willingness to call on religious leaders to open a dialogue about homophobia. We hope that Sen. Obama will move forward and facilitate face to face meetings with religious leaders, like Rev. McClurkin, and the GLBT community to confront the issue of homophobia."