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. Dan From Parma Ohio

    I'm about as conservative as they go, but seriously folks.. Who gives a rat's butt about gay marriage? As long as church's are not forced to perform this marriage, which is against their belief, who gives a yuk.

    Seriously, welcome to the world of divorce and prenuptial agreements to those who wish to join the ranks of the martial insanity... I am quite sure that there already is spousal abuse in gay partnerships, and I say that with sadness. But now, you get to lose half or all of your belongings when your marriage does not work out. Better yet! To those that pull down the top dollar. SPOUSAL SUPPORT.

    Come one, come all. Have fun, and keep your hands inside at all times.

    Seriously, more divorces. More money in the local coffers. More marriages. More money in the local coffers.

    Lawyers just got a new set of clients. Bet they are creaming their jeans.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. spockmonster

    Ironic. I guess we should not discriminate against blacks, but the front seat of the bus is not for neegros. Just like we shouldn't discriminate based on being gay, but we're going to deny gya couples marriage.

    Prejudice and discrimination are ugly no matter who is spewing that toxic brew.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. cando

    If this is Obama's legacy, I fail to see any substance.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Anthony Stark

    The market dropped because jp morgan sucks as usual. I wouldn't buy their stock with YOUR money. Unfortunately the group that manages your 401k probably did. And Europe sucks. But America is actually doing ok for once. Look around, the Avengers is about to break records and the NBA still sells out, even when its biggest star is a sell out. Go us.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Proud Mother of a GAY MAN

    What is wrong with America?...never in my lifetime have I read and experienced such rudeness, cold hearted, ridiculous articles about another human being...Is this what God had planned for our country....HATE? JUDGEMENT? RIDICULE? All of those who wrote this article or take pleasure in it because of our President are EVIL...this is all about God's law...well may I suggest that you all ask our Lord Jesus Christ to come into your heart...before you make judgement....as I remember John 3:16....have you all forgotten who is in charge here? GOD IS IN CHARGE AND HE IS FIGHTING THE DEVIL WITHIN YOU WITH EVERYTHING HE'S GOT......

    May 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • TaxMan

      I asked him, but he didn't reply. Can you talk to him about that?

      May 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Da Bears!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Truthwillsetyoufree

    Keep the enemy revels going. There will be a price to pay when the legacies are all handed out. And Karmic payoffs...

    May 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. John

    The media is the biggest suck up's to Obama. I'm amazed they can even write their stories with the chills going up their leg.
    Obama needed cash funny how he was all for Gay rights before the fund raiser in Hollywood yet prior to that he was evolving. Amazing the length the media will go to cover for Obama. Now that is he pro gay marriage what is he going to do? Seems he feels it is a state issue thus nothing changes. But lets all praise the media created messiah

    May 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      John, I've known for quite some time Obama is gay. You probably did too and just don't realize it. Early in his "presidency" – remember him spending all that time kissing foreign dignitary butt? Kissing the muslim's LEFT hands? That was no accident!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Paul

    wow CNN really? Nice to know this site has turned into TMZ.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sandy

    Liberals act as if Obama is exempt from any sort of criticizm, but feel it's okay to slam conservatives at any cost. Doesn't feel too good, does it?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. person

    What a dumb question. Clinton wasn't black and Obama wasn't gay. They're just people who stand up for minorities.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cambride Ray

      "Clinton wasn't black and Obama wasn't gay. They're just people who stand up for minorities."

      EXACTLY!!!! John F. Kennedy WAS NOT BERLINER, either...

      May 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JB

    All this should really help Obama's campaign, especially with the rough necks in the unions. Just the other day I was talking to this gay longshoreman................................LOL, lots' of luck with that one.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Terri

    Obama probably understands more about racism and bigotry than most of our former presidents. He has a white mom and black dad. I'm proud of him for trying to fight for equality for everyone. Civil rights battles has always been a problem in our country. Life isn't fair. There seems to always be some creepy group or organization trying to take rights away from people because they're just hateful.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. carm

    It seems like everybody's gay nowadays. John Travolta, Anderson Cooper...

    May 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Laura Kuffrey

    Confusis said " Awise man changes his mind, a fool never."

    May 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Tom Hanson

    I support the right for gays to marry. I do not support Obama's shameless pandering for votes. He was pro-gay marriage as a senator, against gay marriage as a first term president, now running for his second term pro-gay marriage again. The man is aligning his positions to get votes, he has no consistent principle governing him.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joseph

      Haha and youre going to vote for Flip Romoney? LMAO

      May 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • TaxMan

      @Tom Hanson – too bad, my vote cancel's out yours. Might as well stay home.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
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