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. Mike P

    There's actually evidence to suggest that James Buchanan, America's first bachelor president, may already have been America's first gay president.

    P.S.: God called, and He wants His rainbow back.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. marineace

    ....and CNN is ridiculous.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. EdR

    Obama, in his new-found intolerance for those who disagree with his 'evolved' position, is proving that there is no fanatic like a new convert. His position is strictly driven by political considerations as he attempts to energize his lethargic base. The end result of his fatuous attempt to influence others through intimidation will be to alienate independents. While Romney focuses on economic issues, watch Obama charge all over the place on every social issue in sight. What's next? Oh,yeah. Legalization of recreational drugs.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tracy

      I love the "You are intolerant of my intolerance" position. It is by far my absolute favorite & I can't hear it enough" because it makes me laugh. The right wing has gotten soft and desperate. They constantly switch from nasty name calling to "You hurt my feelings" babble that makes the whiniest vegan leftist look like John Wane.... Its all entertainment to me.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • PulTab

      The majority of independents are in favor of gay marriage. Sounds like good planning to me. But then, that is what President Obama is know for.

      Obama / Biden 2012
      Clinton / Warren 2016

      May 14, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tracy

    Newsweek and eat my shorts...and so can your "I reporter" The story is as plain as day. Biden said what he believed and Obama had to either tell the truth or lie. He chose to tell the truth. He decided to tell the truth because, at this time politically he can afford the gamble. That is all.
    You can call him names. You can threaten to take away your vote... Go ahead. The guy told the truth about his opinion.... You can wish the gay away on this, but that is really all you are doing. Wishing.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Freedom 101

    Obama just shot himself in the foot! I'm willing to bet his media & narcissism will be his Waterloo!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. john

    Is gay marriage really the number one concern for American right now? NO! But the GOP would like you to think it is because they know that pandering to the people who hate gays are probably also the people who hate blacks and they want to replace the president with one of their rich white christian conservatives at all cost and the only way for them to do that is to IGNORE the real issues like the economy (because they got us here and Obama is getting us out of their mess) and to rile up the haters in this country the haters of gays the haters of blacks.............

    May 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • TravelSheryl

      Very much agreed,

      May 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Powell

    The first enlightened president.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bart

    Conservatives are going to lose to a black gay socialist.......LOL what a bunch of clowns.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. aw

    Left-wing rags pushing their left-wing agenda. Yawn.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike P

    "To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity – and the humanity of all gay Americans – was, unexpectedly, a watershed."

    Uh, nobody who opposes gay marriage believes that gays aren't human, only that being gay is something that is wrong with a person, not something right - and that to marry gays would give people the impression that what is wrong with gays is actually right with them, because you can't affirm a gay relationship without also affirming the gayness that is the whole reason for that relationship's existence.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cambride Ray

    Do you righties actually believe that JFK was Berliner??????

    May 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Baubak

    That was the last straw that broke the camel's back for me with this president.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • PulTab

      I doubt your one vote will make any difference at all.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sandra

      Wow, civil rights issue is something that 'breaks the camels back' for you? What about the GW Bush.. ignoring intelligence reports about terrorist attacks, two wars one of which was illegal, increasing the deficit by 5+ trillion dollars, deregulations that led to the housing market and wall street plummeting causing one of the worst recessions since just before the 1929 depression? That didn't bother you, but a president speaking about for civil rights does? Your priorities are really messed up.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sargint Rock

    The Progressives are all in a tizzy about Obummers recent evolving on gay marriage. When the Muslim Brotherhood infiltration is complete, I'm quite sure he will then have evolved into an acceptance of Sharia Law. And then the LGBT community will stampede to the closets but it will be too late and nowhere to hide. Having alienated all the Christians with their gay bashing of the Bible, they will truly be on their own.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. truth

    Being black and being gay is waaaaayy different. being black is natural, being gay is unnatural and sinful.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mickey1313

    It's sad that the " libral media", what a joke, would call someone Gay for suporting gay rights. Shame on them. I will never buy another copy of either ever again

    May 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • PulTab

      I won't either. Fortunately it's free.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
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