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. Now Why

    Romney is a "Gay Fish"

    May 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Now Why

    Republicans like "Fish Sticks"

    May 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rosalee

    Time was too busy have the breastfeeding mother on the cover. While I have no issues with breast feeding I think exploiting her son and putting him on a national magazine (latched on looking like he is 5+ even though he is 3) to be teased about it for the rest of his life thanks to using his name and it being all over the internet is close to child abuse.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. uhaul

    Why not ban Athiests from getting married if it's such a religious big deal? I'm glad I nearly have the choice now, whether I choose to or not. At least I wouldn't feel ostracized from society.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. pjs

    It's been in Canada since 2005 so it's time for the so called "Land of the Free" to catch up with the progressive countries of the world who evolve and champion equality for all.Since legal in Canada that there is zero impact if someone was trying to find something negative.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CrabMeat

    What would the interior of the White House look like if we had a REAL gay president?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. FedUp2

    Might as well be asking "Is CNN Jewish?"

    May 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • maryla

      This is good FedUp2, and so true we all know they are!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Matthew

    This is absolutely ridiculous! What time are we living in? I don't understand why this is such a big issue. If someone loves another, let them share it in marriage. This is not the Dark Ages people. Come on America grow up and join the rest of the 1st world counties in becoming an adult.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • maryla

      Agree, 100%, I wish every religion will stay away form any this issue – look at Catholic what they are doing

      May 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ton

    By now it's obvious what side of this issue c n n is on. Please just go back to reporting the news.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • TDiddy

      What do you mean go back to reporting news???? They never did, they just push their agenda and try to start a race war!

      May 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pip

      @ton – you just figured out that CNN has a slight left bias – wow maybe you should go get your news elsewhere. It always has. It goes for the middle road on issues where it doesn't have an opinion and leans to the left when it does.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 1plus1

    Marriage hasn't been sacred since back when you were able to buy a wife with two goats and a mule.
    More than 50% of marriages in the US fail, this is not sacred.

    Let's say for the sake of argument that marriage IS sacred.. fine I'll give you that.
    If marriage is sacred, If marriage really is a pact between two people and God, then what the hell does the government have to do with it?

    ps.
    Nothing is sacred because there is no god.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1plus1

      P.S. I know I am bound for an eternity in Hell but don't care.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • jjoonnyy

      Couldn't have been said any better. Thats the problem with everyone...they are turning to a fake God because they have nobody else to run and cry to. If marriage is so ..."very special and such a blessing" then the divorce rate wouldn't be so freaking high. Of course you don't hear any "God" loving boneheads talking about that.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • everdonethis

      Would you like to debate that claim? Email me at: flaynk@yahoo.com

      May 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gay Art

      OMG I love what you said. I do believe in the big bang theory.... ..

      May 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gazork

      Dear Mr./Mrs. 1Plus1. I sense major disrespect for religion/God in your comment. I would think you bring a sorry reputation to atheists. Remember "free country?" Would you deny the right of humans to have faith? Are you perturbed that they seem to have something you haven't got? I suspect most believers have respect. Is disrespect a qualification for being an atheist? I don't think so.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Saddened2C

      My question to you is where did the idea of marriage come from? Do you even know? Whether you believe in God or not, it doesn't take away the fact that He does exist. I am saddened for you because only "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt. They have done abominable works. There is none who does good." I challenge you to seek His existence, you just may be awakened to the truth – if your search is sincere. Marriage is sacred because it is God's idea not man's.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim Rigney

      You may change your mind after the first septillion years.
      (That's a trillion trillion years.)

      May 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jess Wilson

    CNN you are so amazingly out of touch. What the hell kind of heading is that for a story? You should be ashamed. TMZ has more integrity than you right now...

    May 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pip

      This is the civil rights issue of our generation. I'd prefer it not be a campaign issue – but there it is – its important

      May 14, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mylife55

    What a lame article. Maybe you guys at CNN could actually report on something important for a change.

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

      This is just plain stupid.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Amr Azim

    I AM 100% DISGUSTED!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. upstatenyman

    Obama has my vote. Look at the mess he had to deal with coming into office. He has been a champion for gay rights (ie DADT repeal). People that only think of what goes on behind closed doors in other peoples homes need to get their mind out of the gutter and mind their own business. As for DOMA, it may not fall in the next 4 years, but it WILL be repealed and finally we can concentrate on just being a great nation.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Steve

    Since when is it the "right" of ANY religious organization to try and impose their beliefs or agenda on the rest of the country ? THIS IS AMERICA !!! This country was founded on the basis of seperation between church and state. If two atheists are in love and want to get married they can go to a justice of the peace and get married. THEY HAVE NO RELIGION. If a religous organization doesn't want to marry two gay people, so be it, but if two people want to get married by the state, that is their "right". There is no religous organization in this country who has the "right" to say they can't. If your religion says that marriage is between a man and a woman thats fine, BUT what about the rest of the world that doesn't beleave in your religion ? Are you saying we still have to conform to YOUR beliefs ? No we do not have to conform to your beliefs, Plain and simple !! This is NOT IRAN ! ! !

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

      Congratulations Steve you are the first inteligent post.Atleast somebody doesnt impose their individual beliefs on me... This is the land of the free get your crap outta my face. Dont want gay marriage..... then dont marry a gay person.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • jigar

      what if i want to marry a 15 yr old and take more than one wife? what if my religion approves such an action ? what if i want to marry a dog ?

      PS all those things disgust me in real life. just saying how we impose our values on others as well.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
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