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. loriey

    The media always seems to have to "tag" anyone in the spotlight with a "nickname". i.e Brangelina, J-Lo etc....
    First of all the President himself is NOT a "Gay President"......he supports Gay issues but he himself is NOT Gay and if he was Gay himself....so what. .
    Also, President Obama is often referred to as "the first Black President". Really???? This is not fully true either as President Obama is Bi-racial as his mother is Caucasian and his father is Black. .

    May 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. joe republic

    you will know them by the fruit they bear! a tiger cannot hide it's stripes! and so it goes with this brokeback perverted leader of the far left! he claims to be a "christian"? but i'm like rand paul...what bible is he reading from? cause all throughout scripture, God is very clear about the role of the family. and condemns this sin of perversion. woe to that generation that calls evil good and good evil. you think God was talking about this wicked and perverse generation? i do!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • dan

      get over it.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • seebs

      Boy, sure is a lot of fear and anger on this issue.

      As to the question of which Bible the president reads? I'd guess that'd be the one where Paul condemned the hypocrites he foresaw, who were "forbidding to marry" (see for yourself; 1 Timothy 4.)

      May 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • kev

      Dide–put the pipe down and back away slowley

      May 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnh77

      Like + 1

      May 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • thedoctor

      Where does it say that our laws must match what's in the bible?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Love "Christians" that cherry pick the Bible to suit their prejudices. Tell me this, if a man & woman are married outside the church, are they really married in your eyes?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • jennymay

      I'm sure you wouldn't care to live under Sharia law, so keep your own religion out of law too. If you cannot justify refusing allowing gay people to marry without using the bible, you have no arguement. You must understand that you thinking that your religion should be the basis for law is as terrifying to people as someone with beliefs different from yours using their holy book as basis for the laws that affect you.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BobbaFett

    So it wasn't enough to be the first black president. So typical.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • kirby

      @ BobbaFett no its not......................now go hide under your rock.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John

    So now you can get blown up by a E.E.D in Afghanistan, but you can't get married.................sounds like the argument 5 years ago for letting 18 year olds' vote...................eventually we will live up to both the word and spirit of the Bill of Rights...............i.e. all men/women are created and are to be treated equally.................

    May 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobbaFett

      LOL what a simpleton argument.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Pat

    He sure is the first Gay President....Bill Clinton made a better first Black President anyway.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. joe republic

    that name fits you perfectly fruit! it's nice to see you got it all figured out with your psycho babble 101. repent before it's eternally too late for you! Gods judgement is falling on america for it's wickedness. and you will be amongst them if you don't repent!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. unafy

    May be the next president will legalize killing people!!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • mat

      He did that by assassinating an american citizen without trial. Yet nonone has the balls to call him on it. Maybe because they know he has set president and they can now do the same.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike in Wi

      What a moronic comment!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FLIndpendent

    It sickens me that there are still so many backward, narrow-minded people in this country. Face it folks, the world is evolving quicky and if our society doesn't also we are going to be left in a dust heap. President Obama recognizes this and is "pushing the envelope" so to speak to help us along. Unfortunately it will take a few more generations until bigotry, racism and blind hatred are minimized in our country but I believe we are making great strides. It will just take time for many of us to catch up but it WILL happen. I'm proud of our President to go out on a limb for equality for all – we are ALL just human beings on the same planet with one life to live – time to evolve folks!!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnh77

      So gay is the next evolutionary step for man kind? Good for you. I'll remain a cave man.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      @John77 – Were you born yesterday? Gay people have been on this earth since the beginning of time. Do you think that if we keep ignoring them they'll disappear? You're the exact type of person I was referring to as still being stuck in the past.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    Americans admire and eventually vote for people who "stick up for the underdog", .....conversely they ususally don't root for rich spoiled brats........

    May 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Zane in Portland

    I do believe that gays are covered under this section of The Declaration of Independence!!!
    I am a hetero – US Army Vet, and I fought to preserve these rights for ALL Americans!

    IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
    The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America-
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...

    May 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • j0eschm0e

      236 years ago, I dont think they had this in mind

      May 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill

    Now Micheal Obama is at risk!!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Charlie

    8.3% of the population uses drugs and we consider that to be abnormal behavior. 3.6% of the population is LBGT, which puts them further outside the realm of normal. Go figure

    May 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • bfd007

      Well said,,,well said indeed !

      May 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Charlie:

      Where'd you get that silly low number? I haven't checked your figure BUT, considering all the pharmacies that have successfully stayed in business for decades, the percentage of drug users cannot be close to what you present. Also, your LGT figure: what would say about those "in the closet" that weren't counted? Because they weren't counted, we shouldn't consider it on "how normal it is"? I like that idea. So, as long as I don't get caught, I can be a thief but not really, cause I never got caught, hence, I'm a law abiding citizen... That's a nice deal

      May 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. J

    Finally, Barrack came out of the closet..

    May 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. j0eschm0e

    L M * O, cover of newsweek

    May 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mat

    Practice your english before crossing our borders illegally. YTou have no placehere.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
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