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. Debby

    Two awful magazine covers. I might not like Obama's views but that was so undignified on the part of those magazines.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MP

    People can do whatever they want, but wheres the logic? Its like a man breed ing a goat,(or another man) it was never intended to be.. theres a reason there is a distinction between male and female, can anyone tell me why?

    May 14, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sue

    Techinically shouldn't Lyndon Johnson be considered the first black president? He did more for civil rights than any other president.

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

      "shouldn't Lyndon Johnson be considered the first black president?"

      Nope. LBJ did not hang out with them the way Bubba does. See "Primary Colors".

      May 14, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jim

    here's how to get rid of this whole gay marriage issue: MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!! Stop trying to control others and voila: the issue is gone!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Guest

    Now what makes everyone SO SURE he's gay? He has a wife & kids.

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

    here's how to get rid of this whole gay marriage issue: MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!! Stop trying to control others and voila: the issue is gone!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nomad

    Agreed. Men wrote the bible. Flawed men.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dave

    Odd. A man who has known discrimination in his life is against discrimination toward others. There is every legal reason in the world to grant equalityn under the law to gay people. Marriage is after all, merely a Civil matter. The opposition remains owned by a twisted group of bigots who want the discrimination just to, reinforce their religious beliefs. How silly. This is America.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dave Eggers

    The first "Black president", now the first "Gay president, why isn't any one bringing up the fact the this man is also the frist "Mulatto president? The "man" has a black father and a white mother. In every situtation, it is always the "mother" that determs the race, always, soooooooooooo, it turns out that "Billy Boy" is still our first "Black president", not Obama.................

    May 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ben Dover

    Looks like Mr. President bent over to coddle to a small % of the population, causing strife amoungst the larger %...how this gets spinned in the coming months will be interesting.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Just like Romney cuddling up to the Tea Party (coddle to a small % of the population, causing strife amoungst the larger %).

      May 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunny

      Obama is a Muslim and they don't support gays or Christians.. Why else do you think Obama is after the religious on making them pay for abortions, birth control, day after pill and sterilization. By doing so and killing religions, he will get his communistic/socialistic society. But smart Americans won't re=elect him and this is coming from a former Democrat.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • jako

      do you really think that the gay comunnity is a small percentage of the population. Think twice there are as much as the largest minority in this country alone not to include other countries and the closeted ones. Let me just inform you that I am a gay person and the vast majority of men that i meet are harmoniously married with children living the perfect double life. And also be aware that someone linked to your family is gay or has an acquantance that it is.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. leo

    except animals and children aren't able to give consent. Sounds to me like you may want to ask politely before simply slipping it to your pet kitty. as far as people are concerned, well we're talking about marriage between CONSENTING adults. not entirely certain why that would be considered wrong for anybody.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Charles

    I voted for Obama in the previous election but I don't know that I will vote for him again. Aside from the other things that our country is facing, this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back for me.

    I am disappointed in him for his position and don't care if people think badly of me for that. I was raised in the black church and my father was a black pastor when he was alive. Even though I know my father dreamed of one day seeing a black president I also know he definitely would not support Obama's position on gay marriage

    I feel like Obama sold his soul for votes. Hurts me to say it but he has really let me down. More than anything our country needs a leader to set some "solid" standards and I don't think supporting gay marriage is a "solid" standard. He may have actually helped to unite people from opposing parties with his stance.

    There are some guys in my office who can't stand Obama. I don't agree with their opinion of him but we are in agreement that his stance on gay marriage is wrong in our opinions.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chasity

      Get over it

      May 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Byteme

      Charles, here's how your comment sounded not too long ago in our history. And now, your re-mix!

      I voted for Obama in the previous election but I don't know that I will vote for him again.
      Aside from the other things that our country is facing, this may be the straw that breaks the
      camel's back for me.

      I am disappointed in him for his position and don't care if people think badly of me for that.
      I was raised in the (WHITE) church and my father was a (WHITE) pastor when he was alive. Even though
      I know my father NEVER dreamed of one day seeing a black president I also know he definitely would not
      support Obama's position on (GIVING BLACKS EQUAL RIGHTS / GIVING WOMEN EQUAL RIGHTS).

      I feel like Obama sold his soul for votes. Hurts me to say it but he has really let me down.
      More than anything our country needs a leader to set some "solid" standards and I don't think
      supporting (GIVING BLACKS EQUAL RIGHTS / GIVING WOMEN EQUAL RIGHTS) is a "solid" standard.
      He may have actually helped to unite people from opposing parties with his stance.

      There are some guys in my office who can't stand Obama. I don't agree with their opinion of
      him but we are in agreement that his stance on (GIVING BLACKS EQUAL RIGHTS / GIVING WOMEN EQUAL RIGHTS)
      is wrong in our opinions.

      Sound familiar??? How soon we forget!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Opinion8it

      First of all, he didn't sell his soul for votes since his stance cost him votes. Secondly, you didn't vote for him last time and thirdly, you're not black.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • jako

      If your vote is going to be based on a gay issue that probably would not even affect you at all then do the change and vote for Romney because he defin gives a damn about your life yeah right....

      May 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Byteme

    I love how our wonderful President is making the heads of all these good-for-nothing Republicans explode....although having minds that small, it sounds like someone with a fresh sheet of bubblewrap.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James

    What is wrong with this country is that the media has become entertainment, pure and simple, and the consumers are actually buying it! What a bunch of pathetic sheep. Because our President happens to support gay marriage, then he must be gay?! This is so ridiculous! It is like saying that because our President may want to normalize relations with Cuba that this automatically makes him a communist, or if he supports a woman's right to choose, then that makes him a murderer of little babies..... Please become less naive, America! Quit supporting our sensationalist, dishonest and unethical media! Plenty of money can still be made without converting the daily news into a tabloid circus.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda U

      I don't think its meant to be taken literally honey, only figuratively.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tepeters

    The magazines are just being provocative for the sake of sales.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      No! come on now. no media would ever do that. Say it aint so joe.

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