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. OMGLOLBBQ

    who cares!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!

    The only reason why this country is in just a bad shape is because of the Republican and Democratic party!!!!!!!! All they do is fight and accuse eachother.....

    Communism doesn't seem like a bad thing now...

    plus, Obama is doing a great job, deal with it stupid returdblicans...

    May 14, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. FactChecker

    So many people say that allowing gay marriage will threaten their marriage. Draw your own conclusions.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David Griebel

    Don't support gay marriage? DON'T MARRY A GAY PERSON.
    Don't support abortion? DON'T ABORT YOUR UNBORN CHILD.
    Don't support por_nography? DON'T VIEW POR_N.
    Don't support evolution in schools? HOME SCHOOL YOUR CHILD.
    Does my facebook/web page/cnn post offend you? DON'T VIEW MY FACEBOOK PAGE, WEBSITE OR cnn POST.

    IF YOU FIGURE OUT THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ALL THE POSTED ITEMS, YOU HAVE FIGURED OUT HOW TO LIVE AMONG OTHER PEOPLE IN ORGANIZED SOCIETY.

    IF YOU INSIST ON ENFORCING YOUR MORALISTIC, "OPTIONAL" LIFE RULES ON PEOPLE WHO DON'T AGREE WITH YOU, YOU SHARE MORE IDEOLOGIES WITH * TERRORISTS * THAN YOU DO WITH OTHER AMERICANS.

    Terrorists and American, right wing religious nut jobs HAVE MANY THINGS IN COMMON.

    Both believe the world would be a better place if EVERYONE accepted THEIR religions beliefs.

    Both believe they themselves would be better people if they showed more devotion to their religion.

    Both believe their “God” condemns those that don’t believe what they believe.

    Both live their lives hoping that their “God” has noticed them, and approves of their “righteous” acts.

    Both pray for the righteous condemnation and destruction of the other.

    Both believe that a PERFECT world cannot contain anyone from the other group.

    And finally, if both came upon another person lying in the street near death, but were told that their “God” had exacted justice against the person, consider the following:

    A) Would either person really believe that God caused it, when confronted with a mutilated, dying human being in need of help?
    B) If they DID believe that “God” really caused this, would either the terrorist or the right-wing nut job help the dying person?
    C) Would either of them finish killing the person, if “God” asked them to?

    You religious freaks can’t even begin to imagine how slippery the slope you stand on really is.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pike Rover

      Amen

      May 14, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Illinoisian

      You, sir, have my vote for Best. Post. Today!
      Applause, applause!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat in IL

      Amen. Genuine Christians definitely do not act like the nut jobs who just have an agenda and try to disguise it as a religion.

      May 15, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Nunya

    I find it funny that supposedly Pres. Obama is experiencing backlash from the so-called "black community". One would think the oppression and torture of slavery would have sensitized them to issues of civil and human rights.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cambride Ray

      "from the so-called "black community""

      Actually, it is from SOME of the RELIGIOUS Black community.

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

      Do you really think that any of those about whom you speak have experienced being civil war era slaves??!?! Pretty sure all those who were "sensitized" have long since passed away..... LOL!

      May 14, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cambride Ray

    A Washington Post columnist is calling Obama "The First Woman President".

    DO YOU DENSE RIGHTIES GET IT NOW?????

    BTW: JFK was NOT really Berliner, either.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CBR

    Good grief. The job of these magazines is to up the readership. Good luck!

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

    How is gays being married and having the same rights as a hetro married couple have any effect on marriage?It doesn't plain and simple.

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

      Because it changes the definition...and if that door is opened, then there is no legal justification for limiting marriage to just two people. Utah will become it's own country again in a generation or two. Determine next of kin, visitation rights, financial stuff, sure; marriage, no.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      It's not about affecting hetero marriages, those people are just ignorant. It not about people's opinions. It's about what GOD says is right and wrong.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Skipper

    And along the same lines, George W. Bush was the first Saudi Arabian Oil Prince President.....

    May 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    "estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience)"
    That explains a lot.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • spockmonster

      Yes, many Fathers who are brainwashed by religion abandon their sons when they find out they were born gay. It is really sad how divisive and destructive religion is.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jerry

    The Newsweek cover headline should read "The First "Hommy" President" instead of the "The First Gay President". And Newsweek needs to replace the "halo" with horns. Now I know why Moochelle looks and acts so desperate at times.

    Can America afford four more years of this freaking liar/divisive president?! I think not!!!

    America, come the 2012 elections let Mr. Obama and his delusional maggot cronies know that the White House is not for sale to the highest bidder, or anyone else for that matter.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. igy89

    Gayness is a disease and you people should admit it.It's countering laws of nature and you shouldn't put your stuff in someone's anus.That's just not right

    May 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dana

    This just might be his undoing since he wants God to stand up for him w another term yet he refused to stand up for God and caved.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • David Griebel

      What a beautiful, completely ignorant statement – "God created the heavens and the earth", and on his off time, he helps Presidents get elected.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. God

    I used to be against gays (see Old Testament). But then I had a gay son and I evolved.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • spockmonster

      Mark 14:51-52 – And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.

      Jesus was totally gay.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • takenobull

      I use to be against beastiality and homicide ( see the old testament) until my son killed a neighbor and did his dog and I evolved.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Neo

      Glad your not my God. You are the God of hate and bias.

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

    lets go over some things here ....no matter how small the gay population is they still deserve rights...how many native americans are left? shouldn't they have rights...or is their population too small?
    what's wrong with civil unions you say...well that's like seperate but equal, marriage has no singular definition. How can gay people fight for this country but not have all the same rights as everybody else?
    Also how can anybody say with certainty that being gay is a choice? why would somebody "choose" to be a second class citizen? Does somebody "choose" to be left handed?
    and finally the most astonishing thing to me is that other minorities would be so discriminatory...black people weren't able to marry whites just 50 years ago...they had seperate bathrooms and water fountains.

    Obama has my vote in 2012!

    May 14, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • lib

      i tOtally AGREE WITH YOU!! aND THE AUDACITY OF THESE SO CALLED PASTORS TO COME OUT SAYING THEY WILL NOT SUPPORT THIS PRESIDENT WHO IS MORE OF A MORAL PERSON THAN ANYU OF THEM IS INSANE sorry for the caps but I can't stand hypocrits especially when they are my own peeps.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • spockmonster

      @lib, I agree, hypocrasy is the worst! Jesus also hated hypocrasy more than any other "sin", because hypocrasy allows you to carry out attrocities against your neighbor by lying to yourself in order to excuse bad behavior. And that is exactly what all of these gay-bashing conservative republicans are, is hypocrits.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • maryla

      Obama has my vote also and not only mine!!

      May 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. lib

    \These Black pastors don't represent me. It's amazing how these pastors don't all follow the golden rules Why are these pastors not more concerned about adultery? THese hypocrits have some nerve to judge the president when all you have to do is look in the Black communities and see how they have failed their own people. The ONLY person trying to be uplifting to Blacks is the president with his positive image and his positive message to Blacks. We have let the president down by not doing what we should be doing. These pastors are only concerned about what goes into their plates. at this moment they are all grandstANDING.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • WHOOSH

      "DITTO" Many of them have breaks in their wings.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
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