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. Bush's Brain

    If supporting gay marriage makes you gay, then 51% of America is gay.

    This is m oronic.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. charles bowen

    We were all born with one right, the right to choose for ourselves ,not for God, not for the church, not for party not for the family or for the partner, just for us ....... America has lost touch with many values lets not loose the right to choose for ourselves......... Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    May 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. tempemom

    President Clinton was not the first black President. President Obama is not the first gay President, or the first black President. He is the first multiracial President. That is enough of an accomplishment.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Harvey

    Obama may have just shot himself in the foot

    May 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Scriptfoo

    Can we have news outlets stop reporting on other news outlets unless it's to report an egregious breach of journalism? In summary, this article is nothing more that "oooh, lookit what they put on their magazine!"

    May 14, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. John Stefanyszyn

    "...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.""

    President Obama is not the "first gay president"

    President Obama is the president that has placed the belief in freedom in self-rights above the One True God and above the One True Way of Life, Jesus Christ.

    Man says that the way of the True God is not right....but God says that it is not man's way which is right, He says that His Way is right...

    And this one True and Only Creator Gof will rule, through His Son the Christ.

    ...there will be weeping and the gnashing of teeth

    May 14, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Willis

      Basically yes.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • English Speaking Texan

      Spare me the propaganda... That book which you so eloquently quote has been translated, re-translated, copied, rearranged, and has had so many of the original books pulled out of it that what you see there is nothing but a book of fairy tales. However, even fairy tale books are meant to guide, but just like these, your book isn't meant to be taken so literally. Seriously, do you think Hansel and Gretel really found a gingerbread house in the woods with a witch inside waiting to eat them? No. The story is meant to help children understand that you shouldn't wander off into the woods.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • drewood27

      John Stefanyszyn,

      Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take my own personal freedom over the hatred spewed by your 2000 year old book. No gods or kings, only free men and women.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • A W Messenger

      S&G all over again (Gen 19). Though the light is not as strong as it once was, a remnant remains.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Moronmor Gadfly

    If we can repair bush's 8 years of wanton destruction, we can repair anything,

    May 14, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Superior

    Obama takes it in the tailpipe

    May 14, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. jack

    Tell the black , gay, president. to start packing, nov. is coming....

    May 14, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Pete

    These paper rags will go the way the National Enquirer went,down the drain.People don't want to spend money reading that trash,something more intelligent than the crap we've heard coming out of Limbaughs lips,what a drug soaked fool.If that's all they can do is be an ambulance chasing paper,writting ignorent trash,then you'll end up like many a paper before you has gone,on the bottom of bird cages nationwide....

    May 14, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rich

      I agree with you Pete. The quality of news out there has reached an all time low. We get that you're struggling selling paper in this day and age, but be creative and don't resort to shock value to raise your sales. I will never buy one of your mags again because of this story. You've lost my respect.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JERSEYTOMATO

    TOMATOES, LIMA BEANS, AND CORN should be allowed to marry. Succotash! – JERSEYTOMATO 2012

    May 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. George

    There is nothing manly about this guy...

    May 14, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karl Rove loves you.

      Feel again Skippy.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  13. James

    Always figured Obama was a bottom kinda guy !

    May 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Not again

    Article on Yahoo stated the President is calling black pastors to try and control the damage his decision has made with the black church. I wonder what he said

    May 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Rob From Mary Land

    I thought I seen Barny Franks under his desk.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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