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. JC

    Would any of you "moral" citizens have been happy if the vote (was there even a vote?) for equal rights for black citizens of your country had gone against the concept of equality and "the people" decided blacks were not allowed to have such?

    It is exactly the same situation right now. Equal rights for all, legally marrying people is not the same as when they decide to enter into Wedlock in the sight of God and with the religious rights being performed. That is for the specific church to decide and for the priest. So you can save your "holy" state of future divorcees and let other people enjoy the misery along with you.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
  2. Anne

    I respect Obama for having the courage to say what he believes, even though he has a record of flip-flops on this issue, but I won't vote for him. Why? Because he "took sides" on the Trayvon Martin issue, and his "position" completely ignores both the evidence and the "innocent until proven guilty" principle.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  3. K ris

    You're right, John.

    We just hope that Americans are smart enough NOT to vote Obama this 2012 election.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jt_flyer

    I'm for gay rights but is this really the time to be dealing with issue? We"ve been experiencing one heck of a recession and I believe we should be focusing on those things that would help our crippled country back to its feet. Them we can deal with all these other -somewhat less urgent- issues.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  5. Joemartins

    it is only God in heaven that will punish barrack obama for this kind of deadly support of guy marriage

    May 15, 2012 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      joe: or, perhaps it will be a reward...

      May 15, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  6. Tooter

    Oh yeah he is not only gay but a non-citizen oh yes and don't forget Muslin? I fear for my country and the way we treat our president. Why not just go burn a cross in the front yard? My father, God rest his soul, scolded me when I was a teen and said something bad about a president. He said "you will not dis-respect a president in this house – he is your president even though we don't like him – he was elected by the majority of citizens of the USA." I won't make up things on Obama trying to make him look bad. Sad that some will.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      He is Muslin?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tooter

    John John – do you remember what it was like when Obama took office? The 8 years under the Bushes had just about destroyed our nation. Give the man a break he has done the best that he can with all the opposition from not only his party but of course the GOP. I did not vote for him last time but I plan to help give him another four to see if he can bring this nation around.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. Freddy Franklin

    - Describing President Obama as gay is so typical for (stupid as usual) conservative rightwing christomormin/nazis repubs who deeply resent that our Pres is Black while being extremely competent and having a wonderful
    wife and family. He is not gay but he does have his own opinion about certain issues like all self aware beings, a group which does not include conservative rightwing christomormin/nazis repubs. So what if he supports gay marriage, and so what if I don't support it?
    - People can think any way they wish, and Th President's opinion does not imply such a contract (marrage of gays) will be legally enforceable by the states.
    - However, his declaration does imply our Pres is a shrewd politician grabbing the support of a tight knit voting community.

    May 15, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      Whoa, stop the boat.........obama is BLACK? Wow! I didn't know that because I couldn't get past his politics!

      May 15, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      HERE WE GO – These same atheist mumbo-jumbo, spewing out their hatred and their condemnation. Yet you people want to point your fingers at the so-called "right-wing fundamentalists" haters and the like. What the hell makes you any different than those who you judge because of their religion? It is incredible – the double standards you people live by. This is not about the person who is gay. This is about what you all say call LEGISLATING morality. If they choose to be gay, then they should be aware that marriage was not intended for them. Offer civil union and that isn't good enough. They want to hate religion in one sense and reject what God says but then they want His approval in marriage. Thousands of years must be changed because they want to change what has been normally acceptable for marriage. Obama is the new Savior. His personal views don't dictate mine – even if we are both black.

      May 15, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      God will judge all, So who are we to judge..Let the Gay and Les enjoy the rights that we have as well. Peace

      May 15, 2012 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      ron: it is not a choice. it is about equal rights.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • eville11

      but do you REALLY know..... he's not gay?

      May 15, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • eville11

      I didn't care if he was black or not, but this gay thing is just weird.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rachel

    Well at least we now have an official halo on Obama's head thanks to the media. At least now they can't feign ignorance when it comes to their bias for Obama.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • OKC

      Thank you......I'm sure they will anyway

      May 15, 2012 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  10. JuanV

    Did Obama learn to "slow Jam" at the "Man's Country" gay bath house that he and Rahm belonged to in Chicago?

    May 15, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. Disgruntled_girl

    How can I make people read my article which is soley and opinion and not news? I'll call the President gay. And bribe the editor to keep it on the front page for a few days.
    Coulda just posted this on facebook, Mallory.

    May 15, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. Everett Wallace

    islam nation of, I do believe you have invited the NYPD "thugs" to come in and see if WE like your teachings. WE truely do preciate the invitation, we love invitations like this. By the way check out the HOLY BIBLE (new international version) the book of jeremiah 7:18-19 speaks of the QUEEN of HEAVEN, since you religious folk had been thinking GOD THE FATHER created US on HIS own. HOLYSPIRIT!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. sirock

    Oh course obamas gay he has to be because weve never had a president woh suked as much as he does!

    May 15, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • PhillipJ

      You may want to master spelling before taking on politics.

      May 15, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • OKC

      LOL.....very good, thank you

      May 15, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. LarryB

    I think Newsweek has jumped the shark. "First gay President" is just silly. C'mon already. This used to be a respected publication.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • OKC

      Remember Clinton was the "first black president". These people will say or do anything they think will help a liberal.
      And who says they jumped the gun....this may explain his bath house membership.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  15. rick

    Well, Johnnie, equal rights do bother bigots.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
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