By Samuel P. Jacobs
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The pastor selected to deliver the benediction at President Barack Obama's inauguration withdrew from the ceremony on Thursday after being attacked for making anti-gay comments.
Rev. Louie Giglio, an Atlanta minister, called homosexuality a sin in a mid-1990s sermon and warned against the gay rights movement, the liberal website ThinkProgress reported on Wednesday.
"That movement is not a benevolent movement," Giglio said in the speech entitled, "In Search of a Standard - Christian Response to Homosexuality."
Giglio said the "healing power of Jesus" was "the only way out of a homosexual lifestyle," according to ThinkProgress.
In a statement provided by the presidential inaugural committee, Giglio said he was withdrawing from the January 21 event to avoid distracting from the inauguration.
"t is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration," Giglio said.
Giglio was named to the role on Tuesday. In a statement announcing his selection, Obama said Giglio's career reflected "the ideals the Vice President and I continue to pursue for all Americans -- justice, equality, and opportunity."
In a statement on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee said: "We were not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural."
Giglio had been chosen in large part due his work on human trafficking, the spokeswoman, Addie Whisenant, said.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked whether the White House objected to Giglio's statements. He referred questions to the inaugural committee.
Obama faced similar criticism for asking Rev. Rick Warren, a leading evangelical preacher and opponent of same-sex marriage, to deliver the invocation at the 2009 inauguration.
Gay activists have welcomed Obama's decision to include Richard Blanco, an openly gay writer, to be the 2013 inaugural poet.
That choice, blogger John Aravosis wrote on Wednesday, "doesn't mean we can overlook the other guy who hates our living guts, and spews bigotry against us."
(Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom)