An Episcopal priest selected to deliver the closing prayer — or benediction — at President Obama’s inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Monday was one of the leaders in 2009 of an interfaith group of clergy that campaigned for D.C.’s same-sex marriage law.
Rev. Luis Leon, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square, also known as the Church of the Presidents, served on the Steering Committee for D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality.
The group has been credited with boosting support for the same-sex marriage bill among people of faith as it made its way through the D.C. City Council, which passed the measure in December 2009.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee invited Leon to deliver the inaugural benediction after Pastor Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Georgia, who was initially invited to give the benediction, withdrew from that role after news surfaced that he expressed anti-gay views in the 1990s.
Reports that Giglio had advocated for “ex-gay” therapy intended to change people’s sexual orientation from gay to straight and that he urged Christians to prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from being accepted in society prompted LGBT activists to raise strong concern over his selection.
At the time Leon joined the steering committee of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, he signed a joint statement released by the group saying, “We declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving same-sex couples… We therefore affirm the right of loving same-gender couples to enter into such relationships on an equal basis with loving heterosexual couples.”
A biography of Leon posted on the St. John’s Church website says he was born in Guantanamo, Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of 12 as part of a large number of Cubans who fled the island nation at that time.
He began his tenure as pastor, or rector, of St. John’s in 1995. People familiar with the church say it has the reputation of being LGBT-supportive and that it has hired openly gay priests.
When he spoke at one of the first public gatherings of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, Leon invited news photographers to take a “wide angle” photograph of the assembled clergy, who stood at the front of a church.
“Today we stand together as a diverse group of multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic religious leaders in support of the marriage equality movement,” he said. “All of us gathered here today are grateful for the rich diversity of this group, which, by its nature, stretches our minds, deepens our hearts, broadens our faiths, and convinces all of us that no human being should ever be patient with prejudice at the expense of its victims.”