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. cindy lo who

    bigger stopping obama from using the white house curtains to wipe the fried chicken grease off his fingers

    May 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cindy lo who

    stopping obama from using the white house curtains to wipe fried chicken grease off his fingers is the larger issue

    May 14, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. arcruz34481

    This conflict and division in America is caused by the religious community that are conflicted with the teachings of the Bible and their own sense of right and wrong. I am Catholic and I beleive that marriage should remain between man and woman, but at the same I understand that being Gay is not a choice and that everyone should have the same rights and benefits that is allowed under the law. I think that civil unions should be equal in benefit status for Gay people and unmarried people that live together and just keep marriage as the original traditional definition of the union of a man and woman. I think that Americans are afraid of losing traditional values and feel that it is against what the l all religions teach. I think that this issue has to be decided by each state and the local government has to create a solution to address the problem of granting Gays equal benefits such as health insurance benefits for their partners, child adoption legally for both in the relationship. Social security benefits and so forth. The Gay comunity should have the same benefits and rights aseveryone in a committed relationship. The only issue I have with it is that should be called a marriage or civil union.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bill

    Oh please.....What have the Republicans given us that we could, with a clear conscience, vote for? And now this stupid article....

    May 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Patricksday

    And Robot Romney dreams of being the first Billionaire President.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24

      Well, Patrick, that's an odd comment considering that Romney gave away all of the money he inherited and is living on only the money he made as a businessman.

      I'm sure you're one of the naive ones who "buys" the bull about how Romney gutted businesses for profit and pleasure. On the unlikely chance that you actually CARE about the facts (and most Democrats don't), Romney worked in the TURNAROUND unit of Bain.

      By the time a company calls in a turnaround expert, the company is very, very far gone and realizes (almost always very belatedly) that its survival in in jeopardy. Romney had an amazing track record of saving many of these VERY FAR GONE companies. Some, of course, could not be saved. I understand that as a Democrat you probably feel that when he tried and failed (though no fault of his, but because the company was toast when it came to Bain), Romney should have donated his services or some other such nonsense.

      Besides the very troubled companies that Romney DID save, Bain also provided the start-up capital for a number of very successful companies which have become American icons. But don't ponder any of this. Keep focused on Obama's "very important" gay marriage endorsement. And whatever you do, DON'T think for a moment about the billions of wasted dollars Obama poured into the "green companies" that were colossal flops.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patricksday

      It will be an interesting election the GREED and HATE of America vs the American people's ability to buy a home or put food on the table.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Josiah

    You do realize we already had a gay President in James Buchanan, right?

    May 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Robert

    I think wrong is wrong gays should leave the marriage thing alone its not theirs and dose not belong to them. What should happen is that all write offs should be either equal with civil unions or abolished all together. A gay couple cannot be married. Americans can do what they want, sleep with whom they want and live with whom they want but attacking an age old meaning to a sacered word is not for the US government or any governemnt to decide. The United States is a loving country but discussions like these makes me sick. Gay , be gay and leave the straight alone, we are the ones that will repopulate and grow the nation not you. We are the natural keepers not you. However have fun with your own image live life to its poetic fullest, but dont get twisted and start believing your own BS.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brett

      We're not talking about Holy Matrimony sanctified by a church. We're talking about Marriage as in the civil legal status of adult citizens. The latter, is not an sacred age old tradition, and can be easily changed by the passing of laws by a civil governing body.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gotaline

    wonder what Jeremiah Wright has to say about his boy???????????????? What a joke, anybody know why Sodom and Gomorrah was destoryed???
    Read the KJV Romans 1:27 and 28 we are here in the last days you people have no idea, GOD will judge this country and I for one beg God has mercuy in judgement, but I can tell you it wont happen. May od rest your soul.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • January24

      God has already had mercy on America and He's pretty much out of patience from all the indications.

      If you think that Jeremiah Wright cares at all about this issue, I think you have a real mistaken view of who he is and what he's about. Authentic Christianity hasn't been a concern of Wright's for decades now - if ever. There ARE authentically Christian black pastors. And a lot of them don't like this latest move of Obama's one bit. One of the braver ones in Baltimore actually withdrew his previous endorsement of Obama, which was a good thing for him since it's never a bad bet to choose God over a political figure who is shaking his fist in the face of the Almighty.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      You are forgetting that the bible is just a fairytale book, and shouldn't be taken too seriously.

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

    Most people white or black, do not equate this gay movement with the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Most of my friends, do not like or approve of the comparison. Thank goodness there are folks in the African-American churches who also take this stand. You made a tremendous mistake Mr. Obama all for the sake of a few votes. Do not forget what Franklin Graham and Billy Graham have said either. You will be judged by God for what you have done.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patricksday

      Too bad GREED and SELFISHNESS is out trumped by Gay marriage. Remember YOU will be judged on your actions and what you have done to the least you have done to Jesus.

      May 14, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 4thdimnsnal

    love was never meant to be a gender issue.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jamessavik

    Since when did we start voting on minority rights?

    If it were up to the voters in Alabama, slavery would never have been abolished.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. HopeFloats

    I didn't need to read this article to answer the highly offensive question posed in the headline: "If Clinton Was Black, Is Obama Gay". Clinton wasn't black. And Obama isn't gay. (Not that there is anything wrong with being either.)

    May 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kevin

    Seperation from Church and State.

    Why is it so hard for the Religious extremists to understand this? Everyone has the right to their own beliefs. Everyone has the right to get married.

    We need to stop squabbling over such trivial matters issues and unite our country to better it.

    Congress please focus and unite on White Collar crime, which is costing tax-payers millions every year, and other real issues our country faces. Even child poverty is more important than the issue of marriage.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael

    How is Obama's support for gay marriage just for votes? Can some one answer this question? People say his support for gay marriage will hurt him in the long run, then the same people say he is doing it for votes. Which is it? You know why Democrats will support Obama in November? Because Democrats represent civil rights, the poor, compassion, understanding for others, love, peace. What does the Republican party stand for? They stand for war, purity of race, individuality, selfishness, egocentrism.

    May 14, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • JosephM

      Stereotype much?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Goose66

      I don't think Obama's supports gay marriage for votes. I think he has always supported it and everyone knows it. His coming out with his support for gay marriage last week and this week is all about votes. Its the timing of the thing, not the thing itself. Keep the message on the issues that clearly divide the left and right. That is the strategy. Next week it will be some other divisive issue that the Obama administration thrusts into the spotlight, and so on until November.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Goose66

      So Newsweek can call the President gay, but Rand Paul can't call the President's position on gay marriage gay. Isn't it the same characterization being made?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Miguel White

    Of course he is the first gay president, in fact he should come all the way out and announce it at every event until November. It will really bring up his numbers and would be great for his campaign.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
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