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. Rob

    The only thing that matters is that they represent liberal deviants. For that, and many other reasons, its time for Barry to pack his bags and say "Good bye". Nobama 2012.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
  2. government cheese

    I didn't know that Obama was gay.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. NateFromIndiana

    I'm not clear why it's gay to be in favor of equal rights for everybody.

    May 15, 2012 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    CNN moderator... please explain how comments are organized (or disorganized) since they don't seem to be by chronological order nor reverse chronology !!

    May 15, 2012 at 2:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. Marita

    Amazing!!! The thinking of the American people has sunk to a new low. Who can believe this of a leading nation?

    May 15, 2012 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
  6. flarnkingsgargle

    who cares what gay people do?????? Let them do whatever.

    May 15, 2012 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
    • J4m35 C4m3r0n

      He's not gay though, why does everyone keep saying that he is? Just because you support gay rights doesn't mean YOU are gay. Even if it did what's the big deal?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      Chris: And if they are straight and get those diseases?

      May 15, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I agree. In their homes, they certainly have every right to do whatever they want to do. But I wish they wouldn't do it in public. I do not enjoy having to explain to my children that they are either social deviants or genetic malfunctions – I would prefer gay people not put me in a position of having to explain this to children.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Mattski

      precisely, flarn.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      marriage is a legal contract, it shouldn't discriminate who can enter the contract based on gender. I'm not sure what the church thinks they are doing trying to dictate the law.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      gee, mikey, you could just say that they are different and spare your kids the editorializing

      May 15, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. AMS

    One less vote for sure!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Thanks, Hater. Whatever biblical law or moral code you're citing? You're going to hell for Hate. Get some sunblock.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  8. Donald in CA

    What happened to newsweek, they used to be a good magazine. I'll be cancelling my subscription. I should have left when they stopped conventional wisdom.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    Dick Cheney is far more supportive of equal rights for gays than Romey is.
    I am a Republican who does not support Romney's campaign for many reasons other than equal rights for all citizens.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
  10. ik

    Obama is surely going to loose the Presidency as there is naturally no outcome from a Gay Marriage.

    May 15, 2012 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. Ohio Lady

    Shame on Newsweek for having such a cover, and labeling the President this way. Shame on CNN for having this article.
    Shame on all those who are spreading lies about Obama and Romney. How will Obama's daughters or his wife explain this magazine cover? Where is the kindness? This is no Christian nation when journalism has shrunk to new low levels like this. What is this world coming to?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
    • JD1367

      You really need to take it down a notch. They're not literally calling him gay. They're saying he's gay in the same way that Bill Clinton was labelled the first black president.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      Ohio Lady: This is not a a christian nation. However, your false piety is noted

      May 15, 2012 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      The kindness left Christianity back in the 20s when it became a tool of hate with Protestant Christianity in the Midwest. Elected the gov. in Indiana, spread to Ohio. They thought they were doing their christian duty.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. Austin Inyang

    What an irresponsible headline!

    May 15, 2012 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  13. Andrew

    Was Bush the first Developmentally Disabled President?

    May 15, 2012 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Whoops, looks like he "stood his ground" against 115k "gay" Iraqi civilians, too, Chris HOnry. And murdered them.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. John

    The author talked about the case of Loving v. Virginia, which dealt with miscegenation. Many then believed it was immoral for people of different races to marry. The President is expressing his opinion, and has taken a stance on his view. Changes in moral perceptions occur slowly and are not smooth.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
  15. Andrew

    Newsweek is for recycling, not reading!

    May 15, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
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