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. Mike in SA

    Well...will he be able to make political hay out of him being "Gay", if so...yes, yes indeed he'll go with it.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ben

    So, he claims his views evolved and springs this change of heart on the country at just the right time, again using gay America and he is named "the gay president?" No members of the LGBT community have any issues with this? And, just what exactly has he done for the community other than try to make political gain from them with no moves forward?

    May 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      @Ben... more like what HASN'T he done. He's repealed DADT, stopped defending DOMA, signed historic hate crime legislation, and insured the rights of gay and lesbian individuals to visit their loved ones in the hospital. Plus he has openly supported us at times when it was a political risk to do so.

      What more do you want?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. NukeTim

    Once again the idiotic news media makes a mountain out of a molehill.

    Were they this critical when dufus Ronald Regan used mediums to make decisions????

    May 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. decredico

    getting more asinine with each and every article here, CNN

    May 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Phil

    and the first lady is an angry black woman.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bob

    Bill Clinton supported black causes from day 1, not just during elections. Obama has been a coward on this issue when it really mattered, Prop 8 for instance.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DJ

    It doesn't matter that Obama is the 1st black and pro gay president, and that his side kicks Biden and Polosi are also pro gay. It doesn't matter even if a majority of Americans some day support gay marriage. It will always remain unnatural, and against the teachings of Christ and his Church. It is wrong and always be wrong. You can sway the population with these lies, but you can never change the truth!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      The majority of Americans DO support gay marriage. Check the recent polls.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Texan

    I support people doing whatever they heck they want to do. But to make this political, such as Bill Clinton being called the first Black President, makes me lose all repect for these fools. What happeens when we elect an actual gay president? Do they change all the magazine covers and rewrite the history books? Enough of this "first _____ President" B.S. and teratung Americans like statistics and voring blocks rather than humans. Morals are now determined by polls an =d survey responses – none of these people have a backbone. I can't think of one person I would support.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. yoyo martnez

    Actually I never looked at the Prez this much, but I think he's kinda hot!

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dano558

    The stock market goes down 126 points, the S&P falls over 1%, JP Morgan is about to lose billions. Unemployment is still above 8% and not showing any signs of improving, and this is what people are worried about.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dakota2000

      Stock market going down is good. Buy low sell high. every heard of that?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • HoneyPot

      I know these people should be ashamed of themselves, this is bs yellow crap journalism, we don't get the actual real news, who gives an f about Obama, he's a Marxist Commie, we all know it, we are in big trouble, Get that halo down mfers

      May 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosie

      Bingo, except no one is worried about it....they talk about it, but it is soooo unimportant.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • jjh

      Thank you somebody finally pointed that out

      May 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • HoneyPot

      How blatant can it be? He is buying votes, George Clooney you should be ashamed of yourself. If you know what you are supporting, then you suck!! Obama could give an f about KONY, its all about getting boots on the ground, taking over the resources, J A !! If anyone really cared these people would still not be in the plight they are, God help them!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Actually, the economy IS showing signs of improvement to most economists.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anthony Stark

      Stock market going down is a good thing buddy. I'm praying for another cheap slice of that APPLE pie...

      May 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      You can't improve on one part of the system while ignoring most basic right of hundreds of thousands of people.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave Samber

      It's refreshing and,uplifting that we finally have a President who really "gets it" and does not let politics keep him from sharing it>>THAT's leadership, literaaly, at the hightest level and I have never felt this proud of my President!!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BinaryTruth

    So by this logic – because I support freedom from discrimination for black people – I am black?

    This is the most absurd thing Republicans have said so far in this campaign.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • JD

      You hit the nail on the head. A magazine that would stoop this low ought to fire their Editor. They didn't make jokes about looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction and killing thousands of our soldiers for nothing, but because of their prejudices they print some filthy crap like this. I believe it was the Republicans that got caught tapping their toes in the men's room, not our President!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dakota2000

    It is as foolish to not vote for Obama because he personally supports gay marriage as it is not to vote for Romeny because he is a Mormon. Neither of those factors have any thing to do with their respective job descriptions.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • your point

      so what about those who vote for him because he was black?.....a lot of young blacks voted for obama in 08 just to see history made.....

      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalee

      Except that Romney has always been Morman. Obama just evolved into his stance on Gay marriage when it would benefit him politically.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. alfon

    This man is 50%White–(Mother)–His father was 50%Indian and 50% Black–where do u get ,"First African American President"??? He only has 25% Black in him–Somebody did not get an education.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • PVS

      agreed. the way which the education system has failed you is depressing.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dakota2000

      His father was from Kenya. When you say Indian, you mean the indian subcontinent. I believe they are classified as non-white caucasians...

      May 14, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ashanta

      If you have 1% black; your are considered 100% black.

      May 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Anthony Stark

    Wow. Every pro-Obama Christian in America just crapped themselves. Listen gays: the more you celebrate Obama saying what most rational people have been thinking for decades, the more you scare the crap out of anti-gay christians and make this thing closer for Mitt Romney. Calm the eff down.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Steve

    "may become a lasting part of his legacy." If it is then that is a good thing. A stand for freedom and against intolerance. All Americans should be so lucky.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
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