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.'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. JD

    God people are stupid. Both covers make it look like our president is gay. Idiots. Newsweek should just be sued for libel.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marv B

      I agree. This really sux.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dejavu65

      Newsweek has always been upset that Obama was president i think their president owns FAUX new!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom-ay

      but that's the point, calling someone gay is NOT slander. Just like calling people jewish, or black, christian or Asian.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JEM

    Obama never said he would actually "Do" anything.
    During Obama's last campaign he made encouraging remarks concerning marijuana laws only to preside over a massive crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries. This will be no different.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jj

    Obama is metaphorically the first gay president just like Bill Clinton was metaphorically the first black president.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry

      Brilliant statement!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. truefax

    Obama laughs at your god. He laughs from his mountain.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. a disgrace

    obama has been the biggest disaster in a now failing america's history!

    May 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barry

      No. George Bush #43 was the biggest bafoon next for Nixon!. You seem to forget who started the whole mess! You wouldn't say this is McCain was elected!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • EG

      Your comment is a clearly are unable to recognize a good president if he saved you from yourself. Get over skin color and stop being foolish.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ahlong19

    This is disgraceful and very disrespectful to the President. I am totally ashame at the way some of you people act. I cannot believe that you have the audacity to post something like this on the cover of your magazine insinuating that our President of the United States is Gay. You all are some sick people. Some of you caucasian brothers and sisters are completely out of control and you never ever cease to amaze me. The President is not Gay and just because he made a statement about his personal views on equal rights for the Gay and Lesbian community does not make him Gay. You all should be censored for some of the rhetoric that you all call free speech. Get a life and start talking about real issues, such as, Healthcare for the all people, Education for all people, the homeless and poor, the have nots and have, greed in this country that is killing the working class and how the rich are getting richer off of the middle-class and working poor. You need to write about race relations in this country and the how the Justice system is so screwed up when it comes to equal rights for all people.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • prettypiper

      Why he*()*ll , let's support sound like a Deer in headlights...Apparently, you don't know what's going on. I'm glad your parents breath life into your arnse......How do you think that you got here?

      May 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Byteme

      Honey, that would be too much like right!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom-ay

      did you read the article? it's metaphoric.... please look up metaphoric if you do not know what it means.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |

      He has only had these views for the past week or so, if he was so gay friendly, why didn't he make it part of his campaign back in 2008, he is just trying to swindle more votes. His gay pride marriage BS is just a way to gather more votes, he has turned a blind eye to the beliefs that he had for the past 3 1/2 years, kinda funny, how there is an election coming up, and all of sudden he has a change of heart. Romney 2012.....I would vote for anyone else then Obama at this point, such a coward.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • notmuchlonger

      not that there is anything wrong with being gay.

      May 14, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • JomoDaMusicMan

      I agree with you. But the real sad part of the story is that 20-25% of White Gay Men with still vote republican and 60% of the undercover gay white males will still vote republican. Obama may lose 10% of the black vote by this announcement and that could cost him the election

      May 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. riordajo

    the media can really make you hate yourself for saying something

    May 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. BeadyEl

    It's official, Newsweek has a 6-year old writing cover copy.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Scott

    Ha! They should have had him riding a unicorn also.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. riordajo

    i found the flaw in the article
    they failed to mention that he is happily married to his WIFE.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalee

      I was going to make a flip comment about Obama's happy marriage but I am sure Michelle is upset about all the publicity and the grand gay presidency of "her husband". It some ways I think he deserves any discomfort it causes because I really think he is just using this to get votes and detract from his record (all talk with no intention of really doing anything if elected via his leaving it up to the states comment ). However, Michelle and the girls don't deserve all the jokes and comments.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gk`96

      Oh, you mean like Bill and Hillary? That happy couple?

      May 15, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Worried about our President suporting gay rights? Then vote for Mitt Romney! When we get nuked for messing with China or Russia then we won't have to worry about gay issues anymore because we would cease to exist!

    May 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      Amen! Romney = WWIII

      May 14, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalee

      I am more worried about Obama's secret deals with Russia (open mike incident) than Romney. Putin appears to have very little respect for Obama. China also seems to ignore Obama as well. Even our allies don't appear to like him that much (cough UK wedding invitation lost in the mail cough). I am sure the Queen would have loved to invite the Clintons or even Bush to the wedding but that would have meant inviting the Obamas as well. (there is an interesting scene on youtube where Obama got up to do a toast when visiting the UK and the royals and everyone else just sat there and stared at him until he sat down again).

      May 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anita

      I could not agree more. Romney is the worst choice anyone could make in this election.

      May 15, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BeadyEl

    And even if he was gay, he'd be the 2nd. There's a LOT of evidence that James Buchanan was gay, his aborted engagement to a woman notwithstanding. (Elton John was once engaged to a woman also.)

    May 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kiss

    @JimB Mitt wants to "outlaw citizenship for gays" Where did you come up with that drivel?

    May 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Please do your own research. That is just a load.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      A place where the sun fails to shine

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

      Uhh, that's not what he said, at all. He said, "outlaw the citizenship rights" which, while a bit of an extreme take on the viewpoint, and a fair bit of rhetoric, is a completely and entirely different statement than "outlaw citizenship." Reading comprehension, it's essential to an informed, intelligent, and articulate viewpoint. Anything else is a Faux-pa...

      May 14, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • WES

      awesome. I was going to say the same thing. Mo-Ron

      May 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • TaxMan

      @kiss – "@JimB Mitt wants to "outlaw citizenship for gays" Where did you come up with that drivel?" – I don't care if you say the same thing 40 times, JimB is right. My vote cancels yours, might as well stay home.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pip

      In the book of hate – it was edited out of the final version of the bible

      May 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Than

      He came up with it from fact. Look it up moron.

      Mitt pulled a Mitt Romney and changed his position after.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph

      Nice omission of a word there.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I vote we outlaw and castrate anyone who even suggests you can erase the citizenship of people you disapprove of. I'm 60, white, male and actually educated; and I have no use for such crap in my neighborhood or in the general electorate. So let's round 'em up!

      May 14, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • major tom

      You can't read.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      It's not drivel, it's hyperbole, like this article.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
    • OKC

      From the same la-la land they learned they were born gay.

      May 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DPCFOH

    In the world of journalism (at least legitimate journalism) the Newsweek headline would be completely inaccurate, and it is. Are they trying to lower themselves to the tabloid journalism of The National Enquirer?? Seriously, Newsweek, as a journalist I think that you've gone too far to try and sell copies.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cathy

    Harry Reid agrees????? He is mormon, for Christ sake, It is against his own principles which he was raised in. Any thing to get reeleted??? What a shame...

    May 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
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