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. HappyMadison


    May 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jerome Horowitz

    You know, just before my grandfather died he said "I'm glad I'm going out and not just coming in".
    Sometimes I feel that way......

    May 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joan

    Who gives a dog gone? I always figured Michelle was the "big guns" in that relationship. shudder.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Steven J Schultz

    With all that has been publicized lately concerning this subject, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Federal Reserve were to introduce a brand new three dollar bill! Good grief, Charlie Brown!

    May 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joe Idiot

    Total non-issue in comparison to the Grand Canyon size whole President Obama has dug us into. It is however absurd to believe that with all things equal, an newly born adopted child would be equally served by two gay men as parents versus two hetro parents. Look yourself in the mirror and be honest, most democrats believe this too. If that makes me a bigot, so be it.

    Obama has failed to close Gitmo, lower the deficit, reduce black on black crime and increase economic opportunities for lower and middle income American. Not only is he a complete failure, he did this all on purpose with the full understanding that America is resilient and always finds a way to work through challenges. What he did not calculate is our problem solving would include firing him. I love this country.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Concerned in Cleveland

    Anderson Cooper.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Howy

    Is a man with long hair a woman? Is a man with a wooden leg a table?

    May 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. toadears

    Man Country gay bar, Chicago Illinois. Rahm Emmanuel and Barack Obama. And this will cost him the election. Candidates often hire really stupid people as advisors.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Gay Art

    Kim Kardashians marriage only lasted 72 days; Britney spears had a 55 hour marriage; Jesse James and Tiger Woods were screwing around WHILE still married..
    Ya shove your stupid of sacred marriage where the sun don't shine (preferably a black hole)

    May 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bookoo

      I am more concerned about obama's lip reduction surgery - it must have been done by the same quack who mangled Lester Holt's lips.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Obama is White- African people. Shows just how racist the the left wing main street media is when they always convienently disregard this fact when reporting on their "black president".

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

      If gay marriage is so bad then why do gays want it so bad? Gay behavior should be considered to be a mental problem again and all gays should get free medical treatment because they all have daddy issues. That would be giving gay true gay rights–the right to get treated.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pat in IL

    One of the dumbest, most childish things I've heard yet in this ridiculous campaign. If this is the best a "news magazine" can do, then we are in real trouble. I'm completely disgusted and want to start hearing what the republicans could do for our country instead of just reducing themselves to name-calling.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not again

      Dude, this was done by Obama because he thinks it will gain him votes. He is the one bringing the issue up.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • jpeppa29

      The repubs will do nothing for this country but crush it. Every time they're in power they ruin everything. A nation that wants to compete must be progressive. Only under the Dems does anything ever get done

      May 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe Clark

    if there is one man you want to be proud of outside of the male members of your immediate family that would be the President of the United States. Unfortunately that cannot be said of Barack Obama. Personally I don't sincerely believe he can be trusted to represent the best interests of the American people and in these difficult times we all need to know that the man sitting in the White House is working hard on our behalf and not just the best interests of a minority of wealthy families in this country.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • spockmonster

      Why can he not be trusted to represent the America Public? The majority of Americans believe gays should be allowed to marry. He is representing the majority view. He just doesn't represent the extremist view of those who oppose FREEDOM AND LIBERTY FOR ALL.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • will

      you just described the GOP...

      May 14, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TJeff1776

    Well...well...well...must be Presidential election time again.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Minorkle

    I am very sad today. My fake composite girlfriend just dumped me.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. nolongerarepublican

    The majority of voters simply don't care about this issue, including Republican voters (60% don't care).
    If CNN or News Week, or the New Yorker want to try and force their views on the voters, it will simply backfire and get more votes for President Obama.
    They tried the black President, Muslim, not a US citizen thing, and all that garbage did nothing.
    So go for it! wealthy controlled media, help Obama win by a landslide and it costs Obama's campaign nothing!
    Why are wealthy people so "special needs"?.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not again

      Obama is wealthy

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

      The majority of Americans " Do Care !!!" as I am one of them. This country was founded on " Judeo-Christian principles, look how far we have fallen. Remember, The One Who destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah does not change.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • jpeppa29

      Its amazing how much false news is out there regarding our president. just goes to show how racist and stupid a lot of people really are. The ones that say it and the ones that believe it. Next he's a draft dodger right? Even though he was like 13 years old when the war ended. i cannot believe so many people are not getting sued for slander. He can't do much more for this country. Imagine how much will get done with a democratic congress. A lot of people would be back to work and his approval rating would be in the 60-70 percent range

      May 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. sam1

    Gays have the same civil liberties as straights. Both have the right to marry based on the legal definition of marriage. The definition of marriage has been the same for thousands of years. Gays are attempting to introduce a new definition to replace the old definition.

    May 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will

      Learn History before speaking please... Marriage has not always been labeled Man and woman.... It all depends on what religion you follow. This is why this should be kept non religious. Unless you can argue why a gay person can not marry and have non religious reasons for it then you argument is invalid because you can not force your beliefs on another. This would be like a Jew banning all pork sales because in their religious view eating of pork is taboo and unlcean. We are a country that allows freedom from being forced by 1 religion to do something.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
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