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. studdmuffins

    This just proves the man will say anything to get the gay vote. He doesn't believe it or he would have backed it right out of the gate in 2008.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • spockmonster

      @studdmuffin – it does not prove that Obama will say anything to get the gay vote, or else he would have said it in 2008. It proves that his position is evolving as he learns more information, just like the rest of us.

      What really bothers me is how you Obama bashers make up lies and convince yourself of them. You Tea Partiers and Conservative Republicans are delusional. You really are.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • lib

      \Then you don't know this president! President Obama is one of the most distinquish presidents this country has ever had. A true family man. President Obama is not a fake or phony person. It has been a long time since we have had a president who was really concerned about people.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mat

    Cant be for this and be a christian. Period.

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

      @matt, your faith is your own. You cannot tell me that I cannot be gay and be a christian, any more than I cannot tell you that you cannot be a hypocrit and be a christian. In fact, Jesus said quite alot about hypocrits, but he never said one thing about being gay.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      So what? Way more christians are murderers then gays, also i choose gay rights over vile christian rights.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      A CHRISTIAN, PERIOD? HAHAHA, NO THANK YOU; I WAS ONE ONCE AND SO UNHAPPY, GUILTY, ETC.ETC.
      NOW I AM FREE FROM ALL DOGMAS, FORTUNATELY :))))))))))

      May 14, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mat

    wasnt gonna vote for mitt since the bulying thing but u peeps just put me back on the list. if u dont cars for right or wrong why should i?

    May 14, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • lib

      wh at a liar. if anything be true to yourself! You hadn't planned to vote for him anyway.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Four more years.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dr. Fricke

    I'm insulted by President Obama – not because he made the statement, his support is fine. My problem is that he really took the coward's way out. He sees it as a "equal rights" issue, yet wants to leave it to the states. Yah – we tried picking and choosing morality based on states before, it was called the Missouri Compromise. This seems to be one of my greatest frustration with President Obama – he takes a principled stand, yet sets it up so the action has to be taken by someone else, not him.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • lib

      Make up your mind. FIrst you accuse him of too much government now you accuse him of too little government.

      May 14, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dontbow

    You dont give minority groups anything they want just because they cry equal rights. We have had tragic things in the past with blacks that we overcame as a nation and that is great. However gay marriage is not an equal rights issue because it is moral and the definition of marrage that the people of the US should be deciding, not some biased court justices or president.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe

    The Taliban announced today that they stand firmly behind the Christian right in their hatred of gays. Spokesman AbuBabu said: "I don't know why the American Christian infidels hate us so much when we share so many of the same beliefs. If they would just get to know us better they would see we hate so many things together: gays, women, education, science, and the list goes on."

    May 14, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan

      Very true. Conservative Christianity is very similar to conservative Islam. In fact, American Christian conservatives are probably jealous of Iranian Muslim conservatives, because over there they can prosecute and even execute gays. Make no mistake, given the power there are Christian conservatives here in the USA who would persecute gays and other minorities with equal zeal.

      It's so ridiculous, because Jesus was supposed to stand for unconditional love and tolerance, and yet his most ardent supporters are some of the most intolerant and hateful people you could ever meet.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  7. David Griebel

    Dana, statements like yours – that give cause and effect to fantasy, is how the medical profession (ruled by religion) explained the plague in the 14th century.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lib

    I would rather call my self a spiritual person more so than christian. I have found that christians are big hypocrits.People like Mitt Romney make me very nervous. When someone reacts with violence to something they don't agree with, that's disturbing

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

    JOB JOB JOB JOB.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Oyes

    I accept gays as members of our society with equal rights in workplace, social life etc.

    Think about their kids. The kids are confused enouph without having 2 moms or 2 dads.
    This may be a union but never a marriage.

    May 14, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sherron Teal

    WHEN OH WHEN WILL THE PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY EVER GROW UP??? I'm so SICK OF the frickin
    CHRISTIANS trying to make ALL the rules for the rest of us!! This country is going to HELL in a hand basket and what are we concerned with?? GAYS and ABORTION!! No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are complete IDIOTS!! That's because we ARE!!

    May 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Gutsy333

    LABELING OUR HONORABLE AND HAPPILY MARRIED PRESIDENT OBAMA, FALSE AND MALICIOUS LABELS SEEMS OUT OF FOX NEWS AND MURDOCK FALSE NEWS.

    CNN SEEMS AT GRAVE RISK REPUKE AND TEA POISON PARTY "NEWSMEN" ARE INFILTRATING THEIR SITES, OR SENDING BIASED STORIES 🙁

    I THINK PBS AND MBC ARE REMAINING FAIRER AND NEUTRAL.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dave

    Whatever happened to dragging them behind the truck or tying them to a fence? You have to miss the good ole days.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Oh really

    It's official... We are Officially re-named "The United States of Imbeciles"

    May 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. a disgrace

    obama grows more desperate by the day to save his disgrace of a presidency but for obama the vacations are over.america has only one thing left to tell obama....FOOL ME ONCE......

    May 14, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gutsy333

      WHERE DID YOU COPY THAT? IS THAT WHY MANY OF YOU DID NOT LEAVE BEFORE A "REPLY" KEY TO PUSH? WERE YOU TOO BUSY COPYCATTING SUPERIOR DEMOCRATIC IDEAS? SO IT SEEMS.

      THE ONES WHO ARE PANICKING AND WETTING THEIR PANTS OR SKIRTS ARE YOU, RADICAL CONSERVATIVES.

      WHY DONT YOU COME OUT WITH IDEAS TO HELP PRESIDENT OBAMA CREATE JOBS FASTER AND STOP OBSTRUCTING HIS POSITIVE PROPOSALS TO IMPROVE OUR ECONOMY AND EMPLOYMENT?

      PAY YOUR TAXES,, BE REAL PATRIOTIC CITIZENS!

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