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. Eric Walker

    This is just one of a handful of issues in the news today that makes me wonder what has happened to America. Our country was founded on a solid set beliefs by which we use to govern and elect our governing officials. Today, we continue to read about our history making president endorse gay marriage while accomplishing little else, the CIO of one of our largest investment firms making a huge investment mistake that cost us all 2 billion dollars, the CEO of Yahoo lying on a resume that cost us all 7 million dollars while he walks away with his padded pockets, and the CEO of Best Buy having an 'inappropriate' relationship with a co-worker that resulted in the rest of us paying the 'victim' 6.6 million dollars. On top of all this, there is news of kidnappers, child killers, killer children, dumb TV shows that insult our intelligence, super star sports players who act like babies, outrage over moms who breastfeed, and more garbage about a bunch of politicians whom no one can trust to take care of their own mother yet alone our government. The saddest part about all of this is that we all let this stuff happen. We elect corrupt officials and them let them off the hook when we find out they took bribes and put their own interests ahead of the greater good. We don't demand that our corporations hold the executives that they hire and pay big bucks to up to the standards that they should be held to. We continue to pay 400, 500, and 600 dollars for a single ticket at a sporting event where the so-called super star we came to see is crying because his feelings are hurt over being benched in the last game for not pulling his weight. And of course, this all trickles down to our younger generations who say 'Hey, look I can do that too but i can do it bigger and better!' Our grandfathers, great grandfathers, and even veterans today gave up their lives for the greatest country on the planet and this is how we thank them! What a shameful place America is today!

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

      Now that solrynda co he gave 500 million of our money to, their plant is up for sale. This guy has GOT TO GOOOOOOOOOOOO. He could not run a hotdog stand. Never had a job and people voted him for prez, It's too dumb to even comprehend.

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

      Move.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      The bigots are everywhere.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Four more years and you're not going to care in 100 years.LOL

      May 14, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • jack rabbit

      to be honest with you, i just finish reading your opinion or call it comment and i am really thrilled you are really smart and made one of the most intelligent comment most people on this internet are just dumb and ignorant, it will be a shock most of those are college grads, please keep your honesty forthcoming , really pity for the future generation GOD BLESS AMERICA

      May 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • NStanley

      No, you are what's wrong with this country. Narrow minded, backward thinkers who are NOT progressive. This country was founded on beliefs that originally included inslaving African Americans. I'm truly thankful that this Great Country was able to stand up to its creed and reverse it's stand on slavery, and then more than 100 years later, enact the Civil Right's Bill in an attempt to distribute equality across the board. It's closed-minded people like yourself who would like to go back to original narrow-minded thinking and revert back to a time when it was permissible for Africans to be enslaved and women denied the right to vote. Those were some of the "solid" beliefs that this country was founded upon. So I wish all you right-winged religious extremist would make an attempt to see past your own narrow thinking, and realize that there is an entire world out there that's different from your views. Yes, they are the same gay, lesbian and transgender individuals who pay taxes and vote. I only hope that they band together to promote progressive thinking. Onward and upwards!

      May 14, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • shapeshift3r

      @Eric Walker. I'm sorry, have you never heard of racism, the counterculture movement, Watergate, the Vietnam War, Charles Manson, Iran-Contra, Roe v Wade, the Lockheed scandal, the U.S sponsoring of terrorists in Afghanistan, the Cold War, the Gulf War, the Los Angeles riots, the oil crisis, or any other of the bad things that have happened in America in the past? Stop pretending the America of yesteryear is some social utopia where everyone lived an honest and moral life. Anyone who grew up in the 60's and 70's will tell you the world is a lot better off now than it was then. You may not have noticed growing up in your predominantly white, suburban neighborhood, but violent crime and bad things did exist in the past, right here in the the inner cities of the good ol' USA. The fact is, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Stop kidding yourself man.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • TommyTee

      Ahh your crazy. Go and read a novel from the turn of the last century...other than technology and other such advancements, the people of that era perpitrated the the same crap we see today. Remenber the old saying 'the more things change the more they stay the same...

      May 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jaimeh

    What a cheap shot, regardless of your position on the issue at hand ...

    May 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cambride Ray

    One wonders whether this sheet works at all......

    May 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mckcon

    Wow! I guess there could have be magazine covers int he past, saying the first Mass murdering President or Human Trafficers, or Rapist or Thieving Presidents.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. T. Lee

    NEWSWEEK – should be sued for libel/defamation pure and simple.

    This is way over the top and classic "YELLOW JOURNALISM" regardless of your political persuation and position regarding our POTUS.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Enoch100

      Why? Obama is embracing the gay. That's all he has left to offer. Pathetic.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bryan Jon

      Oh no, you wrote, "yellow journalism" now the Asians have been offended!

      May 14, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. forreal89

    This is the president what a nonsense article

    May 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. disgustedNY

    sorry not reading more cnn stupidity

    May 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Miller

    For a supposed 1 st world country The U.S. sure is seriously Ass-Backward.Get a freaking life people..Pro-Gay,Pro-life,Pro Whatever..If defending peoples right to live the way they choose is an election issue then I think the population of the U.S. should pack their bags and head to Iran,because your mindset is no different than theirs..Get over it...Jeeeez

    May 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mark

    Not worth commenting on. Something I would expect to read in the national inquirer not CCN

    May 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Gonzodon

    What a legacy.

    The gay president, the abortion president, the largest pork bill in history president (after campaigning against pork), the "I'm wiser than old white men" president, the apologize to third world countries president, the largest deficit and debt in history president...

    The sad legacy goes on and on....

    May 14, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • TommyTee

      I'll give you a few of the above facts, but do your research mister. The deficit and debt you talk about, with the accompanying recession and wars was brought on by the previous eight years of republican government.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dwan

    This was no attempt to grab anyone’s attention; this was yet another measure of disrespect for a black president by white media. It’s no mystery that this countries higher low life’s has had a bone to pick with this man simply because he's black. They never considered the fact that he's probably the smartest president we've ever had or the progress that he's made is nearly miraculous after following the circus act formally known as the Bush administration. He's still standing after being referred to as the product of animal human intercourse, he's still running after being called liar on the senate floor by a white man that would have licked horse poop from the shoes of George Bush on national TV if he thought it meant he would be a part of Washington’s in crowd. It doesn’t matter what we think of this guy, he's the President of the United States of America, that alone should demand respect but not in the US. This country shows its true colors every few years and this is no exception. They voted for a black man and white people went nuts. So the next time the question is asked, how far has America come on the issue of racism? Remember if they have no respect for the President, we haven’t come far enough.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. wow

    This is blowing up in Obama's face.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. wow

    "The Gay President" Isn't that libel or slander?

    I'm not a fan of Obama, but this is just not right.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cambride Ray

      "I'm not a fan of Obama, but this is just not right."

      You are assuming that being called gay is an insult... Shame on YOU.

      Do you think Clinton should have been upset at being called Black??

      May 14, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Vidz

    Us gonna be the modern sodom and gomora.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • untaimed18

      Actually, multiple countries already have the US beat in that area and they are doing just fine.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike j

      He help millions get health care that wasn't covered...no not that he found and gave the ok to kill public enemy #1...no not that instead of loosing 250,000jobs a months we are now gaining jobs... No not that but try to give a group of americans some dignity...please get over yourselves they are not marrying you

      May 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cambride Ray

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

    You are assuming that being called gay is an insult... Shame on YOU.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
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