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. prettypiper

    THIS IS NOT ABOUT BLACKS CHOOSING TO OUST THE PRESIDENT. DON'T PIGGY BACK BLACKS WHETHER THEY SUPPORT OR DON'T. IT'S SIMPLE. MARRIAGE IS BETWEEN A MAN AND WOMAN. PERIOD. IT'S NOT HUMANITY ,IT'S
    A PREFERENCE. BLACKS WERE DENIED TO BE HUMANS; NO GAY PERSON IS DENIED TO BE A HUMAN BEING, SO TAKE THAT POLITICAL BS AND SHOVE IT WHERE you like THE SUN TO SHINE.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duane

      No, gays are being denied the same basic rights as other tax paying Americans. When the populace chooses what a minority is allowed to do and not do that is tad amount to slavery......if you cannot see the irony of that then you need more of an education.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • DPCFOH

      It looks like you had the caps lock key on.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • nanna

      What if a human being is born both male/female? This is reality. Just whom shall they marry? Should they just not be happy and climb in a hole somewhere? What if on the path of life they find someone they could be happy with, do you suggest they just live together with no benefits or security of marriage. Research is coming up with more evidence concerning gays and so many MORAL people will be eating their words. More people need to be open minded to the possibility we do not know everything.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Byteme

      In ancient Sparta important matters were decided by who shouted loudest. Fortunately, we are not in ancient Sparta!

      Pipe down Pipey!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • JomoDaMusicMan

      I totally agree with u PrettyP. Gays were not denied positions in Government or Corporate America. I can remember having White Gay Supervisors at Post Office, GE and everywhere else. But it was (WE) the Black People that was not wanted OR HIRED in jobs of authority

      May 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Duane

    I am not an Obama supporter but I am glad he openly supports this. Americans should have the right to choose, regardless of gender

    May 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joe

    Mr. Obama is about as much the first gay President as Mr. Clinton was the first black President – totally ridiculous.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. nanna

    Such ignorant stupid people in this world-

    May 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. getalife

    It just makes me sick! with all of the problems going on in the world...this is what people are focusing on. If all of that energy and attention could be put into solving the problems that really affect the bigger picture, what a different world this would be!

    May 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • tiger7970

      Couldn't agree more. Just goes to show you how out of whack this country's priorities are.

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

      you make a good point

      May 16, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  6. donny

    well i dont think omama is gay its just for votes.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John

    This is just all wronge!

    May 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    If I were you Obama, I wouldn't dump Michelle for another man, she IS your life...and she's really cute too.
    Two sperms discriminating against one poor lonely little egg....preposterous!

    May 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. "Y"

    the POTUS is smart!..4 more years!

    May 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. silverback

    Well, you are half right. Where you are mistaken is that clinton was the first black president. End of story

    May 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    With this historic announcement, I believe President Obama has officially earned the Nobel Peace Prize!

    May 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron in California

      You mean the last one wasn't official? I kind of agree with you.

      May 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • ron

      I don't agree with that decision, but will still vote for him. Many more decisions have been made that I do agree with.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. hypatia

    Way to go with that yellow journalism! Epithets are the first indication that the 'authors' have little to say.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BeadyEl

    What's next – "Biden is a booger head" ?

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

    Is there any American outlet that does not create yellow journalism? I think it is now the default, as every agency is now a for-profit enterprise with a top priority of making money and selling shares.

    Best to remember the capitalism behind every news story you read or hear or see.

    May 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ricky Ricardo

    Here's an idea. Get the government out of marriage completely. If two or more people want to marry, they should be able to draw up a contract. If a man wants to marry his daughter or his pet goat, that's between him and his god. The government shouldn't be able to stop it. If a group of 50 women want to marry the planet Earth, then by all means, who are we to stop them?

    May 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      They are already free to do that. Doesn't mean the rest of us have to recognize or accept the legitimacy of it.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • DDDAN

      Exactly! Let there be a legal contract BETWEEN those that want to marry. And this shoots down the man marrying a dog or a woman marrying a goat.....because...it's not possible to have a LEGAL CONTRACT with a non human being.

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