May 14th, 2012
02:14 PM ET

From first black president to 'first gay president'?

As if becoming the first black president wasn't momentous enough, Barack Obama has just been handed a new title: "First gay president."

A Newsweek magazine cover bestowed that distinction on Obama this week with a picture of the president and a rainbow halo. If you view that as a naked attempt to grab your attention, capitalize on the moment and have you pick up a newsmagazine, you might be right.

But that illustration along with a New Yorker cover showing the columns of the White House lit up in rainbow colors certainly shows how the president’s public support of same-sex marriage has pushed the issue back into the spotlight.

The magazines’ choices also speak to the broad cultural impact of Obama's announcement and pose questions about whether this moment may become a lasting part of his legacy.

That's not to say the president's announcement is necessarily a watershed moment. It earned him kudos and criticism despite the fact that he left the legal standing of same-sex marriage in the hands of the states and made no policy changes.

The issue also is far from resolved in the African-American community, and some conservatives say Obama's announcement comes at a political cost.

CNN.com's John Blake writes that some suggest the black church may punish Obama for announcing his support for same-sex marriage.

As millions went to church this weekend after the president's announcement, clergy across the country offered their opinions, with the words of black pastors a key base of support for Obama in 2008 carrying special weight in a presidential election year. But black pastors were hardly monolithic in addressing Obama's remarks.

Blake points out that a backlash by some African-American pastors, a campaign worry following the announcement, can be seen as historical irony. Black church leaders arguing against same-sex marriage are making some of the same arguments that supporters of slavery made in the 18th and 19th centuries, some historians say. Both groups adopted a literal reading of the Bible to justify withholding basic rights from a particular group.

Patrick R. Tull, a Lumberton, New Jersey, iReporter and Obama supporter, said that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman and that the president has alienated a big section of his supporters in the black community who have not "evolved" as the president has.

"The fact is many Americans, which includes Democrats, have not 'evolved' on the issue of same-sex marriage," Tull said. "Mr. President, you should have stood your ground and said, that you believe marriage is between a man and a woman, but you are against discrimination of any kind. Individual states should decide what's best for their state. It is a free country and people are free to love whomever they want and that's OK with me, but I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman."

Vera Richardson, also an Obama supporter, said the president’s stance on same-sex marriage will be his undoing for re-election.

“I am confused, I cannot vote for (Mitt) Romney, and I know Obama needs our vote, but he has caused anxiety in the black community," she said in an iReport.

But for Andrew Sullivan, the writer of the Newsweek article and also a gay man, Obama's announcement meant everything for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"For gay Americans and their families, the emotional darkness of Tuesday night became a canvas on which Obama could paint a widening dawn," Sullivan writes. "But I didn’t expect it. Like many others, I braced myself for disappointment. And yet when I watched the interview, the tears came flooding down. ...

"I was utterly unprepared for how psychologically transformative the moment would be. To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity and the humanity of all gay Americans was, unexpectedly, a watershed. He shifted the mainstream in one interview. And last week, a range of Democratic leaders from Harry Reid to Steny Hoyer backed the president, who moved an entire party behind a position that only a few years ago was regarded as simply preposterous."

And for one Republican, the announcement swayed him toward supporting Obama.

“I'm very happy with Obama's decision because at the end of the business day I can see my partner and feel hopeful,” said iReporter David A. Seaman of Lansford, Pennsylvania. “I never would have thought he would do something like this. Just this decision alone made me swing way left to vote.”

While that analysis may be true for some, others wondered if the Newsweek cover went too far in enshrining the moment and its significance.

It's not entirely unprecedented to bestow such a title to a sitting president. In the '90s, Bill Clinton was dubbed America's first black president.

"African-American men seemed to understand it right away," Toni Morrison wrote in The New Yorker in 1998 about the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked Washington. "Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."

And in many ways, the shared connections or perceived ones that earned Clinton that title, mockingly or not, is part of why Sullivan has bestowed "First Gay President" upon Obama.

Sullivan writes that a black president who likely had to go through a period of self-discovery growing up as well as struggle for equality shared in some way the plight of gay Americans. As Obama eventually shattered the barrier of office to the "White" House, his announcement will allow gay Americans to shatter the stereotypes placed on them, Sullivan argues.

“Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family," he writes. "The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack, needing an American racial identity as he grew older but chafing also against it and over-embracing it at times.”

This week's column in The New Yorker, headlined "Wedding Bells," argues that Obama's announcement is on par with the importance of abolishing laws against interracial marriage in the 1960s.

Writer Margaret Talbot points to the Supreme Court's 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down anti-miscegenation laws, saying the acceptance of same-sex marriage is inevitable.

"One day, not long from now, it will be hard to remember what worried people so much about gay and lesbian couples committing themselves to marriage," Talbot writes in the New Yorker.

"And, eventually, the Court will do the right thing on same-sex marriage, just as the President did last week. As in the Loving decision, the Court will reaffirm that the 'freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.' And it will finally uphold that freedom for gay and lesbian Americans."

soundoff (1,368 Responses)
  1. Ashley Hutto

    Are you serious?
    Barack Obama is getting so much hate for supporting gay marriages?
    I think this is the best thing he has done since he has been president, so why don't you people leave him alone?

    May 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim (retired AF colonel)

    I dumbfounded that the black community can't relate to the discrimination experienced by gays. The same arguments being used against gay marriage were used against inter-racial marriage 50 years ago.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike Texoma

    The idea that the President can now be chartacterized as "gay" is utterly stupid. The magazine cover was intended to sell magazines by being outrageous. Sales is the thing; not logic, not reason, not civility. The idea is to manipulate folks to buy the magazine. None of this has any more credibility than the proposition that the President is a not a natural born citizen of the United States. To the extent that evangelical Christians endorse or support this kind of shenanigan, they need to be taken to school to learn what Christianity is all about.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jon

    I'm a white male, but support civil rights and women's rights. Does that therefore mean I'm black or a woman? According to the logic of Newsweek, it does!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Pimpson

    LMAO. They just handed the presidency to Romney.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Who handed the presidency to Romney? Again, if you're a one issue voter you shouldn't be voting!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I'd say so too...I was actually looking forward to voting for Obama again for a second term until learning he supported gay marriage....Obama just lost my vote.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rosslaw

    A scientific poll shows that ostensibly straight people who actually agonize over gay marriage for up to 5 seconds a day are 50 % likely to be closeted gays. If that person actually worries about gay marriage for up to 10 seconds a day, the percentage goes up to 98.9% closeted gay. It's a fact.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    This move has increased Obama's support. Also, just watch; this will be a non-issue in another week or two. The attention span of most Americans is very, very short. Obama/Biden 2012!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Id say its the complete opposite....he's already lost my vote....

      May 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Guero

    Thank you Mr. President. Few leaders have such courage to realize the dignity and civil liberties of all American citizens.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dean

    This article is so gay.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Wade

    Si he said it was up to the States. How is that any different than it has always been. Obama was a gay in his youth so why would anyone be surprised he supports gay marriage. The real issue is he did not support it when it was affecting his desire to rise in politics. He cannot run on his record so he choose now to change the subject of his failed presidency. Problem is most people are too smart to fall for his deceit and games. Besides if anyone really deserves any credit it would be the VP Biden not Obama who jumped in like the coward he is after the fact.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Moron FAIL

      May 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • US guy

      All Narcissists feel they can say what can help them with promotion and expect us to believe it. The problem is that people are smarter than that.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CBS

    I am sorry but he does look Gay. but then so does Mitt

    May 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • george

      Hey CBS Exactly what does gay look like? You have probably never knowingly talked to a gay person in your life but profess to be some expert on the subject of what it "looks like". Really?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ryan

    Apparently the magazine is not familiar with James Buchanan.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Notarichboy

    Why have "first gay president"? Obama is not gay (I don't think) why not have first pro gay president?

    May 14, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom Clark

      I thought the first gay president was Abraham Lincoln?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. UnFred

    Does it really matter what newsweek says? Do people still read that watered down rag?

    May 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. LynnieMae

    Remind me never to buy another Newsweek. That headline is just beyond anything when it comes to pandering to the worst elements of society–those who hate this thoughtful, reasonable President. I am proud that I voted for him and, like most of America, look forward to doing so again. And no, I'm not black, or gay.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • US guy

      Sure you are.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
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