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. indievoter

    It is not a civil rights issue. A person doesn't choose to black, they are born that way. However, a person chooses to be gay and there is no scientific evidence that they are "born that way." It is merely people wanting to be given the approval to live in a permanent perverted lifestyle. You can respond angrily all you want, but you know what I say is true. Most people don't like the truth anymore though as it is too "politically incorrect."

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

      indievoter

      Oh people choose to be gay do they? That means they must also choose to be straight.

      So tell me big guy, when did you decide to be straight?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fed Upsky

    Yea, I always thought he was a GAY Black President anyway !

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

      I hope the next time he evolves, its to human...

      May 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      YOU HAVE NO PROOFS, SHAME ON YOU, PESKY RUMOR MONGER :) YOU ARE SURELY A SADIST NAZI, RIGHT?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dscon

    since cnn is giving me the option...FINALLY...Yes, Yes, Yes, first gay /bi prez!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      WAIT A SECOND, rumor monger! THERE IS AMPLE EVIDENCE PRESIDENT OBAMA HAS BEEN MARRIED TO HIS WIFE MICHELLE OBAMA AND THEY HAVE TWO CUTE DAUGHTERS :)))))

      RATHER, RYAN'S,RUBIO'S AND BUSH'S CLOSENESS TO ROMNEY SUGGEST ROMNEY MAY BE GAY.! WHY NOT? HIS ANTI WOMEN PROPOSAL, CLOSURE OF PLANNED PARENTHOOD, MEDICARE , MEDICAID AND PELL GRANTS PROVED HIS SUBTLE ATTEMPTS TO PASS LEGISLATION THAT WOULD DAMAGE MILLIONS OF WOMEN AND MEN.

      FRANKLY, YOUR ROMNEY NOMINEE IS LIKE A HUGE BALLOON THAT IS NOT DEFLATING :)))))))))))

      May 14, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dscon

    oh, my, gwd.........i knew it!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      BAD NEWS: DID RUIN ROMNEY ALSO BULLY GIRLS WHO WERE NOT IRISH? DID HIS BULLYNG EXTEND TO RACE, AGE, ETC.?

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

    You're joking...right?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Higher power - reason!

    Evolution? If you are ugly or have ugly habits, or just don't fit in, you invite rejection. That's just the way it works in nature – it's called selection of the fittest, and if you mess with that, you will have serious, negative consequences. It doesn't take religion to figure that out!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Freedom 101

    Need Obama be disabled & a woman to receive more accolades? He sways whichever way the wind blows...for VOTES! The "MOST" transparent president is evident! He will say anything for votes & throw you under the bus same as Hillary Clinton. He isn't black, not gay,American,or not a woman & will gladly send you down the river if your of no use to his political gains. WAKE up & know your being sold a fraud.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynett

      YES!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      YOU MAY REMAIN IN LA LA LAND, IT IS A BIT LATE TO DISSUADE YOU, YOUR BRAINS HAVE MELTED, YOU POOR THING!

      LET ME INFORM YOU: PRESIDENT OBAMA IS LEGALLY AND HAPPILY MARRIED TO A LADY. SHE LOVES HIM DEARLY; THEY HAD 2 DAUGHTERS. NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU? WELL, LIKE I SAID YOU LOST IT ALL :)

      FOR FUTURE PRESIDENTS: AS LONG AS THEY LIVE LEGALLY, PAY DUE TAXES AND ARE FOR US THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, ALL I CARE IS THAT THEY CARE OF OUR COUNTRY, ECONOMY AND EMPLOYMENT, POLLUTION TO AND ADVANCE OUR CIVIL RIGHTS :))))))))

      May 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. TownC

    In 6 months he will be the first "gay" ex president in part because of his stance on gay marriage but mostly because he has woefully mismanaged our economy and run us into incredible amounts of debt. Gay marriage is a distraction from his dismal record on jobs and the economy.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynett

      True! A distraction to his Socialists thoughts. WAKE UP AMERICA!!!! If he is elected we will be another Greece, Spain, and in the near future France.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      As opposed the the prior 8 Republican years that led to a recession, two wars, the countries most devestating a terrorist attack, the collapse of the housing market, the destruction of Americas reputation via torture, sky high unemployment rates, the implementation of the patriot act, the hurricane Katrina failure, and the creation of the TSA.

      Dude, your kidding yourself if you think gay marriage and some debt is even close to making this country take on the absolute disaster that is the republican party

      May 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      HAHAHAHAHAHA, THE MORE YOU LAUNCH CHARGES AND LIES AGAINST OUR PRESIDENT OBAMA, THE STRONGER YOU MAKE OUR PARTY :))))))))))))

      May 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Percy

    Finally coming out of the closet ;-)

    May 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      CONGRATULATIONS FOR YOUR COMING OUT THE CLOSET, SIR. WE ALL HUMANS ARE EQUALS, I WONDER WHY THE CHRISTIAN FANTASY BIBLE REJECTED NATURAL EXCEPTIONS. EVEN IN NATURE, CREATURES ALIVE OFTEN ENGAGE IN GAY PRACTICES.

      IF GAYNESS WOULD BE ACCEPTED, THERE WOULD NOT BE A WORLD OVERPOPULATION EXPLOSION, MAYBE?

      May 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. pntkl

    I used to be proud to be an American, where at least I thought I was free. And I won't forget the men who died, who tried to give that right to me. And I'd gladly stand up next to you and restore her still today.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      LOOK, MEN WHO CONDEMN GAY ACTIVITIES GOT NO RIGHT TO STAND BY WAR HEROES, MANY OF WHOM WERE GAY, OR FEMALE SOLDIERS WHO ALSO GOT KILLED AND WERE LESBIANS.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • pntkl

      What a load of anger and resentment. Condemning is strong disapproval, which all Americans have a right to, even if they stand next to a Defender that is attracted to the same gender. Where I could agree with you, is if you had chosen to use abuse, instead of condemn. Don't judge others, simply because you sin differently than they do. Inevitably, when this issue is raised politically, it is more like kicking a hornets nest, than drawing honey from the bee comb. People like to think they speak for God, when He speaks for Himself just fine.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  11. Moronic Reporting

    I'm so incredibly disgusted at the moronic reporting, ridiculous accusations, and the mental effort to think up stories like this. As a previous commenter stated, STOP re-posting/reporting stories from other "news sources". My god, this article and many others like it sound like Jr. high school all over again. This is one of the many things that are wrong with this country, forget the politicians, let's look at the Jr. high school gossip mill. Even *IF* Obama was actually gay, who cares? And no, I'm got gay for the 1st person that will sound off against my comment.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Christopher

    James Buchanan was the first gay president.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Not again

    President Obama is doing damage control with african american pastors. Wonder why he didnt call any white pastors? Is he no concerned with their thoughts?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • ric

      because white pastors dont care about black issues

      May 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • tlew4512

      Dam if he do, dam if he don't

      May 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Karl Rove eats babies.

    51% of the American people support gay marriage.

    Are they gay too?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • ric

      uhhhh..yeah..

      May 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Higher power - reason!

    Basically, the gays want to get married for one main reason: to be acknowledged and accepted in the society as " we are not weird, we are just like you". And other people don't want to allow that acknowledgment, because the gays are weird. It's, of course, not explicit, but that's what it is.Religion of course supports that position.The traditional marriage benefits are secondary.

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