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. Not again

    Our President is either fake or a liar. You can not call the gay lifestyle admirable and be for gay marriage and be a christian.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • spockmonster

      Christians are nothing like Christ. If Christ came back today, you christians would crucify him.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not again

      Since you know christ and Gods word so well tell us what he/it is like

      May 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChrisC

      I am straight, I believe everyone should be allowed to marry because it is NOT a union involving God, and I consider myself a "believer" yet as Gandhi stated, "II like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." The word "Christian" alone is sickening to me because 100% of you are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites who pick and choose what suits you out of the Bible, then point your fingers at everyone else who isn't in agreement with what you deciphered from the Book. There is a God, there was a Jesus – this is my belief. MY belief. But how DARE you say who is and isn't a Christian you piece of hypocritical trash.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Who cares if he's christian or not. He's the President, not a preacher. You also cannot technically say that its "okay" to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist and be a Christian since those are "false" religions and according to the Old Testament (which Jesus himself explicitly stated was still to be followed-the New Testament does not overrule the Old Testament) you're to burn down their villages and possessions. Not to mention that "slaves" are to be obedient to their masters. I know I'm going to be hit with the "out of context" references, so please, explain how that is "out of context". We as a society have outgrown religion in the political forum. Get over it

      May 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not again

      The bible teaches christians to cry aloud and spare not, it speaks against the gay lifestyle. Christ loved everyone and he gives everyone the chance to repent and be saved, but becasue he loves everyone does not mean its ok to live outside his will. It is a christians responsiblity to go forth and preach the gospel. No one is preaching hate, just the gospel. I see a lot of pro gay supporters on these post calling names and using harsh language. My religous beliefs are from the bible. I may not be able to get you to believe them but I must try.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not again

      I guess being a liar or a fake is ok. He is the President, I think his honor should be questioned.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • New Mexico

      The churches are full of gay Christians. There are gay congregants, ministers, Sunday School teachers, choir members, secretarial staff, actually every area of the church. This includes both Protestant and Catholic churches.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ArizonaYankee

    The man is flat out evil. A toxic, narcissistic, racist, liar. Destroying the nation with socialism, which I think for the moment are far greater issues than gay rights, or his phony war on women. We have BIG problems right now and this is where Obama is.....What a disgrace, What a failure, and shame of the gay community and Follywood for making this an issue that is diverting attention for the disaster called Obama and the socialist Democrats...This is really sad stuff...HOW DUMB DO WE GET ???

    May 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • spockmonster

      So Obama is evil because he captured Osama bin Laden, has unemployment finally recovering from the Bush debacle, has the stock markets at their highest since Bish destroyed the economy in 2008, has saved Detroit Auto Industry when Republicans wanted to dump Detroit, fights the corrupt Medical Industry and Insurnace Industry which is ripping off every American. Yep, those are all bad things. He is evil because he is not stripping away civil rights the way a conservative Republican would be doing. I get it.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gazork

      How dumb do we get? Are you the smart one? Who do you represent?

      May 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • darren

      yea cause you repubs just love everybody right?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ben

    Other than offending Christians, which News Week has claimed is not its intention, what is the purpose of the Halo?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. sam1

    Newsweek is a liberal publication, not a conservative one.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dan Green

    I don't agree with Obama's fiscal policies. I didn't vote for him the first time, and I won't vote for him in November, but why gay rights is an issue is beyond me. It seems fairly logical to me that gay people are born that way, and if they want to go get a piece of paper that validates their relationship, as well as give them the same legal rights as a hetero married couple, then why the hell would I care? How does this affect or hurt me? It doesn't. I wish we had a candidate that was fiscally conservative and socially liberal or at least moderate.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gazork

      Hey Dan Green, that seem to be a logical approach.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. maestra730

    You sound like an irrational, mentally unstable zealot. Glad you're playing for the other team. (And in keeping with this particular topic, you can take that any way you want.)

    May 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Joe

    Democrats are never what they appear to be.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ronjayaz

    Inclusion is really O'Bama's (Irish heritage spelling) theme in his presidency. First, there was healthcare, rightfully called Obamacare and based on the fact that his mother died from cancer w/o being able to afford the medicines that the expensive cancer drugs cost. Sure it was personal but his goal as president was inclusion of ALL as the "all" in " all are men are created equal" and the "all" of Jesus, hear ye christians (small "c" deliberate) "Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.' It is NOT really American to exclude even one citizen from his/her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps, some Americans dont remember those words. President O'Bama duz. He will be long remembered for his valiant stance.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. JC

    Yet another example of the dumbing down of America. Amazing how well it's working.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. ton

    This is not the most important issue facing the U.S. today. Not by a long shot. It is simply a diversion so Obama can get reelected. Anything as long as it's NOT the issues.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kris

      Just because it isn't an issue to you does NOT make it a non-issue.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not again

      @Kris.. I think he is just saying its not the biggest issue. Mr. Obama plan this perfectly and was going to wait until later to put it out their, but Joe Biden trumped him and said he was for it so Obama had to jump in with both feet. Its a political ploy.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CNNsucks

    Umm..is that like a Galo on his head?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Animenut

    It is far more important to discuss whether his being left handed has anything to to with his politics.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. mailliam

    Perhaps the US needs to elect a President without children before all of this unnecessary gender bias taints an otherwise outstanding father and mother?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. BlackDynamite

    Pretty desperate excuse for an article.

    TMZ laughs at this.......
    BD

    May 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. jimmy99

    It's the poopy hole people! Come on!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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