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. JayDeeTee

    This is just another rotten pile of crap the Mainstream' media creates to sell their pathetic political gossip rags. Newsweek's "gay president" is nlot only FALSE, it borders on criminal libel.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunny

      How can a Muslim promote gays. That is totally against their Islamic Cult.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sneekasnaaka

    Wait until your kid comes to you saying he's gay. Suddenly you will move the world to get him the rights you think he deserves. Stop being such hypocrites. Seriously.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      If he comes home saying that then he was clearly raised improperly. Probably by a single mother or without a decent father in the home.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jim

    This whole gay marriage thing is a NON-ISSUE: mind your own business, live your own life (or get a life), stop trying to control others, and the issue goes away. (but nooo.... the bible says is naughty and we must not allow it: get a life!)

    May 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ben Dover

    How this gets spinned before election 2012 will be interesing...he pandered to a small group of voters and it played right into the GOP's hand...

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

      "he pandered to a small group of voters"

      He "pandered" to a HUGE number of voters: those who believe in FREEDOM, EQUALITY, CIVIL and HUMAN RIGHTS.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Becca

    Well I guess it must! But Mr Obama is not gay and all of you know it. I guess you saying these nasty things have no Idea that these people are born this way for the most part. Just have to find something to say about him is all and most of you are all stupid. But here is something to think about what is your best friend was gay does people have the right to say you are gay too?? I do not think so! What is your brother was gay doe that mean you are gay too? I can not say I agree with or do not agree with gay marrage. I think it is people own business what they do or decide to do with their like as long as it is not criminal.I think you had better find out something better to blame Obama for than this.

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

      It IS people's own business – but here, in the good 'ol US of A, we seem to just HAVE to tell others how to live their lives. What a country! Can't everyone just mind their own business? Oops, I guess not.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bribarian

    hello i need votes lolz

    May 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. David R

    Wow. A halo! Not only is he the savior of mankind, he is the gay savior of mankind!

    Clooney HAS to be writing these scripts or hooking B.O. up with some good talent. Dramatization at it's finest. What does tomorrow hold? Tune in....same gay time, same gay channel! LOL

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

    Funny how he's willing to leave gay marriage to the states, but not education, health insurance, enviromental rules, and bank regulation.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DSO

    As I understand the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to say that President Obama's view on gay marriage has "mutated", than to say it has evolved. Evolution is about mutations that improve survivability, and we do not yet know how this mutation will affect the President's ability to survive.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Oh Well

    Now both Time and Newsweek have just gone plain stupid!!!!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. leo

    I'd kiss him. He has pretty lips 🙂

    May 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Darren

    The same type of people who are up in arms against gay marriage were also cagainst interracial marriages, also using biblical quotations to justify that narrow-minded viewpoint. It wasn't until 1967 that a brave Supreme Court (nothing like the one we have now) outlawed this form of discrimination. It will likely take another 45 years until another generation of bigots die off before gay marriage will become acceptable in the mainstream of American society.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. greg

    In the end, gay marriage will come. Because non-gays lose nothing in denying the right (straight marriages are not impacted either way). Are couples in MA for example abandoning marriage because gays can marry? Do they really think less of their marriage because a couple of guys down the street are married? On the other hand, this issue impacts gays and lesbians at a very personal level. Their passion comes from the heart, the soul, from the needs of everyday life. In the end, that must prevail.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe

    I couldn't vote for Romney ever, but my vote for Obama has suddenly become questionable after this decision.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. M Brown

    President William J. Clinton was not a black man and President Barack Obama isn't gay. I think it is crazy the way media will label a person based upon his or her opinions or beliefs. I am a Christian and I support Christ, does that make me Jesus? Foolishness!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Saidso

      Yes it is weird.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      he'll hold you down and cut your hear then tie you to his car and drive you around.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • PK

      Does the news media realize how many people believe every word that is printed and spoken? My father was a newspaperman for 50 years and said they will print what people want to hear. That's not what I want to hear! I want to hear the TRUTH and not eye catching labels on people doing their jobs. Try the truth for one day, but, you had better label it as the truth, as we know it.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
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