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. Johnson

    Never buy Newsweek again. This is beyond stupid!!

    May 14, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Who opened the gate? The Idiot's have walked In !

      I totally agree ! This is worse than the national inquirer garbage ! Whoever approved this article should be fired !

      May 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • eddie hurley

      do you have a rainbow on your head

      May 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • lib

      I AGREE There should be a protest. This is why you can't please everybody. The disrespect for this president is repulsive.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. It's a Disgrace

    This is really a disgusting thing for Newsweek to do. Their editor should be fired.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • eddie hurley

      it would be fine if they were bashing the GOP you would say great article

      May 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tom in San Diego

    Why do Zebras pick other Zebras?

    The first Gay President?

    The first Black President?

    Where is Reverand Farakhan, this has got to be as stressful as can be...

    Obama has just put the "kink" on every black man in country...

    My black friends are gonna kick my tail if I even "wink" at them, ROFLMAO....

    May 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • PulTab

      Don't hurt yourself laughing at your own stupidity.

      May 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Who opened the gate? The Idiot's have walked In !

    Worst article ever ! Who ever allowed them to post this garbage should be fired ! This is highly disrespectful to the office and to the President's family ! The President takes a principled and adult position on an issue that plagues a portion of our society and yellow journalist's try to reduce it to tabloid folly ! This is a sad day for journalistic integrity in America !

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

      Give us all a break. Obama brought this on himself. Or are you another one of those who likes to shift responsibility off of the persons shoulders where it squarely belongs?

      May 14, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • eddie hurley

      every thing that don't agree with you you think it is stupid a sad day was when people started to justify everything they do in people's hearts everybody know's it is wrong for a man to b with a man or woman with woman nature it's self teach's it is wrong that relationship will never produce anything not a Dc teacher mother nothing

      May 14, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TommyTee

    It is normal, just because a 2000 year book tells you differently doesn't mean you should believe it. I know plenty of gay people and they are wonderful parents and peopel. In fact I worked with an ex ranger who is as gay as they come. But he can be a tough and mean SOB in the office and out as well as a wonderful

    May 14, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NorCalMojo

    It was stupid with Clinton and it's stupid now.

    Clinton is not black and Obama is not gay.

    Why pllay games?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. 20 Years From Now

    You know...sometimes...I really feel like we are all riding different rides in an amusement park (called the United States). I have to ask: What ride would Obama be on at the moment?

    May 14, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tracy

      The "get re-elected" at the cost a country's morals.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ralph N

    If someone must think through a moral decision, like Obama did, before announcing his position on it doesn't that tell the tale of lack of principle before the deliberation even begins? If you truly believe in something as serious as this you don't need 2 days to think anything through. This is another example of a decision that was poorly considered and is fast becoming a political liability. By the time Obama gets to the debates he won't have any principle or any record left to stand on.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      sounds like he stuck a wet finger in the wind to see which way it was blowing. That and he was getting short on money and needed to hit up the gays for money.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. goodegyptian

    He's first gay black president.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. maestra730

    If Obama IS gay, that would explain so much.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • lib

      If the president is GAY, He's still my president. THis from a woman

      May 14, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cambride Ray

    butch: "gays are not minorities"

    In your place they aren't, but we are talking about America: They are about 8%, that is a MINORITY.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    Barack Obama is no more gay than I am, which is zero. You do not have to be gay yourself to see what justice is and is not. I have protections under law that I must reject unless/until they are universal.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Agreed...rights for polygamists, polyamourists, and siblings who want to marry!

      May 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. spanglish

    Maybe Obama is evolutioning and is trying to define his gender

    May 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tracy

    Marriage is a union between a man and a women that is considered a sacred union and anticipation of reproducing. What these gays should get if anything is a civil union certificate not a marriage certificate.

    Besides, gayness is wrong and we all know it, it's an elected alternative way of living and just plain nasty.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angrywhitemale

      Marriage is not sacred it is nothing more than a contract between two people.Religion has nothing to do with marriage either don't need a church to be married so please crawl back under your rock and keep your bigoted thoughts to yourself.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      I don't see the fun in ignorance, but hey, if that's your thing, then that's your thing.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. LAW Houston, TX

    Really? Why is is our business to even care who people love? Are they hurting you by being gay? So what if our president supports gay rights? It is ignorant of people to believe that makes him gay. Oh wait I know, this means that all Mormans have multiple secret wives. Hmmmm. Maybe all Catholics support priests molesting boys??? I'm just saying. Think before you act or speak.

    May 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
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