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. tlew4512

    Silly people still trying to define our President. Define him as 'One who loves his fellow-man and woman'.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      The way he behaves, I'm not sure how much love he really has for me or his fellow Americans.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. anonymous

    Seriously? Who comes up with these articles?? You can do better CNN....

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

    Actually there was talk about him being in a gay relationship with a man named Donald Young before he went into office. Mr. Young ended up murdered and there was talk of a cover up. Obama's "recent" support of gay marriage just reminded me of it.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Saidso

      I heard some stuff about you too. You just reminded me of it. 😉

      May 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lenny Pincus

      "There was talk" What a load of right wing hogwash. Typical.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Prabhat

    Courage is needed to change. Obama is one of the most courageous president of US. His support to gay is always appreciated in the world forever. I support is support to the gay though I am not a gay.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Thank you. I agree. The courage it took for him to say what he did. is outstanding!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dejavu65

    Has anybody ever saw newsweek articles they pretty much are just like Faux new, just lies. ...Also its kind of stupid to say the first gay pres when the man is happily married with 2 daughters... Just because he supports the rights of gay people what at typical Repub reach!!

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

    I'm glad he's speaking common sense but it's still frustrating that this even has to be an issue. Just give them their rights so we can go back to the economy. Please.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Guest

    This is a President doing whatever he can to get votes and the media doing whatever it can to sell copy. Nobody except those who want to promiote themselves and/or their organization is taking any of this seriously.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. President Mayhem

    "President Mayhem" a must see video on You Tube !! search "President Mayhem o you tube now... It will be worth yyour time.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. joesixpackjr

    We are leaving our kids a mountain of debt and a diminished economy with too much unemployment. Yet Newsweek, Time, CNN et al want to submit Obama for sainthood. Close the journalism schools. They are worthless. Let the lawyers take over the media; they are more honest and trustworthy!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. durrrrrr

    Alright folks. It's that time of the year to start focusing on arguments around subjects we will certainly not agree on. That's right, an election is right around the corner. Time to start waving your pro-gay and anti-abortion flags on the opposing ends of the aisles!

    America– Getting nothing done, and getting angry about it too!

    We really are in need of some real political upheaval.. We are easily swayed in to passionate arguments that fall in line with the party that props up the matching banner, and the issues that politicians on both sides of the aisle continuously fail to resolve end up remaining that way. While all this talk is going on, we've got enough poison bills to make it look like our congress is a rockstar paper pusher...

    May 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bdmf49

    does Al Sharpton supports gay marriage?

    May 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rich

    This is dumb. Not everything needs a buzz word or slogan.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Opinion8it

    I don't support gay marriage, but I also don't support gay bashing. Obama has the right to his own opinion and I WILL vote for him again

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

      I DO support gay marriage – and I will vote again for President Obama because his policies are the only way to continue our economic recovery and make the necessary investments in our country and her people to continue to compete globally. The Repubs represent the investor class which, despite all their American/God/Country rhetoric, care only about money, regardless of how and where it is made.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Isaac

      Voting for Obama? "ThinkAgain" 🙂 In all seriousness, if you did any kind of research you'd know that both candidates are wrong for the job. Don't drink the Kool Aid. RON PAUL

      May 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Coflyboy

    This whole thing is out of control. Obama said he supported gay rights... It is not like Obama said he was going to change laws or do anything for gays. He simply said "I support gays being able to marry".
    I support the Republican stance of keeping Government "small", but that also means Republicans stay out of our lives, whether we are gay, straight, mormon, jewish, catholic, white, black, male, female...
    So I am forced to vote Democrat since I can't deal with Republican hypocrisy. When will we have another party to vote for?

    May 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cambride Ray

    The part we are destroying -you for instance- was the only bad part of America.

    Your HATRED dies with you.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
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