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. JRH

    CNN, that has got to be the STUPIDEST, most ignoramus headline I've ever read, bar none. You guys really need to grow up for crying out loud.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • yeahalright

      The headline was by Newsweek, genious. Look out! There's a dumptruck full of irony barrelling right at you!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. eviltaxpayer

    Liberals are so brainwashed by the useless media, theyll just buy anything living in denial.
    Record food stamps- doesnt matter
    record unemployment- irrelevant
    downgraded?- and?
    Lies after lie from the comunity agitator and they just regergitate the msn script.
    Blame bush, its racism, its the reps fault.
    Novemeber cant come soon enough for these fools, theyll have to get jobs and feed there own 12 kids from 11 different baby daddys.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • JRH

      Wow! You get the confabulation prize for this week! You're so confused, I sure hope you don't vote.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. adibaro

    politics in this country has hit rock bottom, including some desperate news papers/stands. what happen to civility and both parties sticking to their old paltforms, which made sense.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cambride Ray

    The Washington Post Forum (even the one over at Faux) is MUCH, MUCH better than this sheet.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Vern

    Let's just wait and see what happens in Nov. Polls are bogus, too many people with cell phones and to my knowledge cells don't get polled. So only the old folks that still have land lines are making up the poll figures. And how many hypocrites are saying one thing and voting yet another way. Gays are here to stay and how many of the "good ol' boys" in the 30's and 40's were on the down low. I mean really, do you think Gays are going away, wake up now.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Vincent Walker

    I am a Democrat and proud church going, black man. We will not be voting for this oreo anymore. Cant vote for Romney and cant vote for him now! My church is outraged.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jimmie

    Maybe he is gay ! He is a closet muslim and most likely not born in the US so what else is new ?

    May 14, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. czar33

    There should be a BAN on all marriage benefits! As a single straight man! I resent the benefits married people receive! Why should I have to pay more taxes because I do not want to be married? Single people get the shaft when it comes to Social Security benefits!
    Example: This is a true example, Dad's twin cousins came to NJ to work at the Ford plant. Both started on the same day, worked 40 years. One brother was single, the other married a girl from back home in PA. This women has a 2 year business degree and is very healthy. This women-cousin threw marriage NEVER worked a day in her life, never had children to raise. She is a nice lady, but LAZY, CAN'T clean or cook to save a life. She was spoiled “color TV and air-conditioning in 1958. Yes 1958 not many average worker could afford that back in 1958. Just a FYI: her family back in PA was dirt poor.
    When both brothers retired at age 65, they each received $1,600 Social Security, because they BOTH PAID-IN THE SAME AMOUNT into the system!
    Here is the problem; the LAZY stay at home gets to collect $800 per month, for doing nothing. One would think that the single brother should collect more. NO WAY! I call this double dipping! The Twins sister stayed in PA took care of the parents, kept a very clean house and worked 48 years in a local store for 48 years. This women only gets $625 per month and a stay at home gets more, just for spreading her legs, ;ONLY IN AMERICA!
    I live in a "well to do area" and get sick, when I see these stay at home KEPT women. In my eyes they are no better than a $25 street ho***r in NYC.
    ALL SINGLE PEOPLE STRAIGHT, GAY, BI, WHATEVER! Ban together and STOP the benefits the MARRIED people receive!

    May 14, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mathew

      Well, what an uneducated person you are, thanks for showing us how to spell threw (through) and for showing us how the ENTIRE economy of marriage benefits works.... GENIOUS!

      May 14, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Than

    Romney said when campaigning for governor that he would support the gays more than Ted Kennedy could. Why aren't we calling Mitt Romney the first gay governor??? Curious double standard.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Because Mitt Romney flip flopped on this issue since he became governor.

      May 14, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Than

    *for senator rather. Not governor.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Keith

    How long has the media kept this non-issue in the news? The "black church" has better start doing a whole lot of soul searching, or should we go back to the days of lynching blacks for dating whites? At the time there were tons of preachers justifying it and telling their flock that it was ungodly for blacks and whites to be going together.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mo

    dosent make sense cause he has a wife and kids. i am agaist him but its not right to call some black guy gay if its not true. or else theyll get the HOOD on you.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Phil Muse

    Remind me never to buy another copy of Newsweek. Proclaiming Obama to be the "First Gay President" implies that he himself is gay, and not just someone who is unafraid to stand up for equal rights. That isn't even disingenuous. It is a deliberate attempt at defamation. The Newsweek article may not bear that out, but how many Americans will never read the article, but just glance at the cover of the mag and form their opinion?

    May 14, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Debbie

    Maybe he is gay and got the big ears from being pulled down on. Rev. Wright has a new book. Seems someone in Obama's campaign paid him 150000.00 in 2008 to shut his mouth because he was hurting the campaign. John Edwards is accused of giving campaign money to his mistress and stands a chance of going to prison for a long time. Hmmm, there is a 3 hour recording of Wright talking about Obama and his book. This gay issue may become worthless. Fox News 5 at 5 on May 15. They are working to get a copy of the recording.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Big C

    Romans Chapter 1 verse 24 through 32 sums it up.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cambride Ray

      @Big C: "Romans Chapter 1 verse 24 through 32 sums it up."

      Roll those pages in cylindrical shape, add some lubricant and thrust it up...

      May 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
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