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. dallastexas75205

    As you push your site does it say something like this??? Luke 6:37 – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

    May 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. lefty avenger

    The White House looks a lot better as a prop in Sgt. Pepper's lonely hearts club.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Anthony Stark

    Where is the regular cnn commenting format???????!!! This is balls.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. pbernasc

    Yeah .. First Gay President .. right with a black dick bigger than any of the House and Senate members ... literally and figuratively ... the GOP can't but resort to derogatory insult when he is out of option and voters

    May 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. IslandAtheist

    He's gay friendly, like most atheists.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • DoNotWorry

      That word atheist is sure being thrown around with abandon. By rightwingnutters anyway.

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

      He's an atheist like his father was, read his book "dreams from my father" he laughed at religion growing up.

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

      So says the Island Atheist.... lol

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

    I don't think this is going the way the Obama crew had hoped it would.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim Rigney

      Remember, all that matters is the undecided voters in the swing states. People can shout and scream all they like but all else means absolutely nada. Zip.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. maria

    omg look if gay people wanna be together thats their choice not you'rs so let them be damn gosh

    May 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Unsure about OBAMA being gay but newsweek sure is the gayest magazine funded by the sissy Koch

      May 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnjon

      The New Yorker cover brings a tear to my eye. I'm 50 years old, my partner and I have been together 22 years. I've always hated that silly rainbow flag, but this cover makes me wonder if equality is really within my reach. I hope so.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim Rigney

      But it's not about "not letting them be together," it's about the laws regulating distribution of finances and assets after one of the couple dies. Not ignoring the "rights" issues, this is, ultimately, about money. *Lots* of it.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Larry Lare Nelson-San Francisco

    This is just bugging the $#%^ out of me! I'm Gay (like I needed to say that). He is not Gay and not the first Gay President or "Gay-Like". I now that NewsWEAK's cover is hype for marketing and not what the article is about, and is akin to people jokingly saying that Clinton was the first Black President, but there are those out there that will take it at face value. Besides, it just plain ole stupid! Everyone is taking one comment way too far or should I say “Gay too far”. Yes, it is a comment, not an endorsement, not a piece of legislation and not an Executive Order. Our President is also not a saint with a halo nor is he ordained. At the end of the day our President is indeed a POLITICIAN. Really people!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sweet Pea

      Larry, Obama is way Gay. Do Larry Sinclair and Donald Young mean anything to you? Obama was in his Chicago church's gay club, Man's Country. Please don't tell me you don't know peeps from Chicago who will confirm.

      Any coincidence he just admitted that his "girlfriend" in his autobiography Dreams from My Father was made up and therefore cannot be found? How a prominant donor offered Reverand Wright $150,000 to be quiet?

      A hunky secret service will be Obama's Monica Lewinsky. Obama is down with it!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. clinky

    Here's what today's bigots are committed to saying: "You're free to use the bathroom whenever you want, but I believe in separate but equal so black people should use the bathroom over there."

    May 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nelson Colorado Springs Co

    Who ever came up with these PICTURE or through of these PICTURE mike be gay also or want to be . This very disrepectful of the Office Of The President Of The United States Of America. ALSO just to Show Them. People of America need to listen or read what the President SAID GO OBAMA

    May 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      He is a public figure. Mocking public figures is a century old global practice. Here in the US we called it freedom of expression.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jasie

    There's a couple of books about that.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Patrick Manley

    Wow, you media folks are clueless. This is only in the media spotlight for a few weeks because you made it so, not that many others care that much. Gay marriage is a state issue, nothing the President impacts one way or the other.

    What this story tells me on the heels of several others is tat the media will continue to be Obama's lap dog through November. Every few weeks the Obama campaign will throw out another news release in their ongoing effort to distract the media and the voters from the economy.

    The media is easily distracted but voters are not. The main issues are the economy, jobs, illegal aliens and the wars. Obama's incompetency will result in a new President.

    The media can roll out something new every few weeks, and watch them, they will. Now how many unemployed Americans are really that concerned with the President's stance on gay marriage? Very few.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • DoNotWorry

      So you think enough 'bama haters are willing to put this country into the hands of the Ku Korp Klan looter?

      May 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    Why are our news magazines so R E T A R T E D.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • TonyInNYC

      In what way are they retarted? Please unpack that.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brendan

    The media are quite stupid, especially when it comes to liberal politicians.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. name

    haha still making obama look good 24/7.

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

      None of the Christians think calling Obama gay is making him look good 24/7. I'm seeing so many comparable remarks that I wonder what you could be thinking... how is calling him gay making him look good?

      May 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
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