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. DavidC

    Where does it stop? We have just added more soap to the slippery slope. If man "marries" man/woman "marries" woman, what is wrong with polygamy or a man "marrying" his daughter or pet?

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

      Answer: Your slippery slope argument doesn't apply.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • DoNotWorry

      There probably isn't anything wrong with polygamy... or polyandry. People may have to marry in groups to protect themselves from the Ku Korporate Klan and their Klan leader-wannabe Mittens.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Irene

    Obama is the most courageous person we have ever had in politics. He does not follow the status quo, but takes a stance against that to make this a better world for all of us!!! It's a miracle to witness a man like this in my lifetime!!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hank

      Too bad he cannot manage the economy which is the single most issue today.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hank

      Too bad he cannot manage the economy which is the single most important issue today.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      Dining with wall street bankers and entertainers at $40,000 dinners and golfing with wall street fat cats is not the status quo? I hope that you polished your Obama altar. LOL

      May 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. indyreader

    The single most fundamental axiom on which US civil law is based is that the government has to protect the right and civil liberties of ALL citizens equally, regardless of religious creed. Obama seems to be the first president who REALLY GETS that – bravo for him. It's a shame s many people can't think outside their own narrow, high-sided religious boxes to see that all they're defending is exclusivity – country-club style exclusivity – which is certainly not a civil right, and does not even approach justifying abridging the civil rights of other citizens.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hank

      Naw, most people just realize the economy is more important and Obama has proven he's clueless with regards to economic management.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • DoNotWorry

      Thank you. I can't believe how many people are advocating a theocracy. This country has separation of church and state. Civil rights. Any time the President speaks out for someone's civil rights, the rightwingnutters go ape because they want a theocracy... unless, of course, it isn't their very own theocracy. Crazy as loons.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. joe

    Did you really just say that Romney is opportunistic after reading this article about Obamas opportunistic ways. Obama's touting this crap like a badge of honor. He's a disgrace to the presidency!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hank

    The economy is more important than gays getting married. Obama cannot manage the economy.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • TaxMan

      @Hank – but gas/oil prices are falling when Prez talks gay. Shouldn't we talk more gay?

      May 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. TaxMan

    I am a gay liberal conservative leaning lazy jewish rich black banker married to a gay conservative liberal athiest ex nazi indian formerly on food stamps. I occasionally have an affair with a hetro former nun. Is it ok with you that I love Mittens?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • DoNotWorry

      Sounds like you are a liar just like Mittens. Your civil rights allow you to vote for whomever, so go for it.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bill

    Yours is not the only bible or belief system. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" You are free to practice your religion without forcing it upon others.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. David Griebel

    I'll go to your facebook page. However, there are thousands of "Mary Davis"'s on facebook, how are we supposed to find your page?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. cj7

    Why are people wasting their time labeling the President as "gay". Stop making pretty rainbows and get back to the real issues. ---Complete waste of time.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. E

    The citizenship rights I think JimB is getting at have to do with immigration. You can become a citizen by marrying a citizen. But there are countless individuals who have been deported simply because they were not allowed to marry the person they were in a relationship with.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Stupidity

    although mr.obama said that he was not the regular washington politician, in my mind he is the most apt washington insider politician. I think he fooled everyone with hope and change and yes we can slogan.....now it is forward to where???

    May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ted

    COME ON REPUBLICANS CAN'T YOU FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO USE AGAINST OUR PRESIDENT THEN THIS ,COME ON GROW UP ALREADY .

    May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • maryla

      Agree with you ted!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • jake

      When Democrats learn to grow up. They will find out republicans already have.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. sao

    now man and man/ woman and woman / tomorrow man and animal and woman and animal....grrrosh!!! if your mind is not out you're not out!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Steve

    I knew Obama seemed like a fruitcake.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 1221

    Jim can't marry a man, I can't marry a horse. Seems pretty equal since neither of us has to drink from the gay only water fountain, but this is all semantics. And since the nation is split about 50/50 on the issue, it will be this one issue that decides which illusion of a candidate will be the next POTUS come November. The illusion of choice kept alive and well by the real 1% that runs the whole shell game regardless of who wins. It's a shame when the sheep are trained so well that they herd themselves.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • sally

      The nation is not split 50/50. 62% favor allowing gay marriage!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
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