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. Jennifer

    I agree with what you had said....I never watch the news.If I woukdnt of stopped to see what my boyfriend was watching my 1st thought would of been that the president was gay. Not a good cover for a magazine.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joe

    You must've moved., Right?

    May 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. marctheduck

    This is hilarious! The liberals are painted into a politically correct corner. Either they embrace the "first gay president" moniker or they show that they think there is something wrong with having a gay president. Gay it is, I guess! LOL!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • bfpiercelk

      Funny that you think there's only two sides to that coin. The problem here with the Newsweek is that Obama isn't Gay, they're putting a label on a person that does not apply to them....

      May 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • runswithbeer

      We hold these Truths to be Self-Evident....... ALL PEOPLE ARE CREATED EQUAL......I'm a East Texas Redneck and I can understand that.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • scoobypoo

      There is nothing wrong with "gay" anything, be it president, marriage or something else.
      The only problem is intolerance, and marctheduck is overflowing with it (i.e, full of it).

      May 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • indyreader

      Andrew Sullivan's observation:
      "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."
      ... stands equally well, with one minor edit, to describe how I felt during Obama's inauguration speech, when he explicitly said "... and non-believers,..." after the litany of various religious affiliations mentioned inclusively as citizens of the Unitied States. As an atheist, that moment was a watershed – and stood in stark contrast to the (possibly apocryphal) statement by GHWBush to the effect that atheists shouldn't be considered citizens at all. (To which, the only sensible reply is, well, then stop taking my tax payments – duh!)
      Obama showed what it means to be a LEADER on social issues, rather than a dogmatic stick-in-the-mud (that is to say, fossilizing) Republican. Bravo, Mr. President!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. GREAT REPUBLICAN

    President Obama is the first Anti-American President

    May 14, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • wook

      You got that right

      May 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      You can say that again! Or, maybe a million times over

      May 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      You have that totally backwards – this is the first President that recognizes this country has many flaws and is trying to correct them to make the country a better place and to move us into the 21st century. Just too many among us are still stuck in the past!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • REALIST 17

      Obama can't do anything right. First of all, he's only 1/2 black and 1/2 white. Second, he flops on anything that will get him votes. Third he appeals to those with weak minds and liberal idealogies. Our country is in serious trouble and someone please tell me one thing he has done to improve our economy, relations with other countries, confidence in our pride as Americans or anything to solve the decaying education system we currently have. It's always the same! Democrats will back democrats and Republicans will back common sense and try to use history for decisions for the future.

      May 15, 2012 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. tiger7970

    The American Media know no shame. First he's the Muslim President, then he was the illegal alien President, now he's Gay. They'll stoop to any level to get people to read/watch their crap.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalee

      Well they are not mutually exclusive – I suppose the next cover story could be that he is a gay Muslim illegal alien.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. davetharave

    Whenever the acts of people, politicians or otherwise, are today influenced by a 'literal reading of the bible', we are all in big trouble. Stuff in the bible happened thousands of years ago and cannot be used to shape policy in countries of the modern age. Separation of church and state is a bedrock of American tradition and law, why do our leaders keep ignoring it and use religious models to determine how we should be and act ?

    May 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tmega

    what is the big deal? Let them get married. Why should they be happy?

    May 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      No one cares if they get married or do what they do behind doors or in subway steps. It's about the legal status of 'married', next there will be special Health classes in elementary school to teach gayness etc. That is the slippery slope

      May 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. GG

    The responsible thing for all African American voters of faith to do would be to either stay home on election day, or cast your vote for Mitt Romney. A vote for Obama would be contrary to your faith and principals (if they really matter that much to you)

    May 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christine

      I am an African-American woman and I will be voting for Obama. I don't expect to agree on EVERY issue with any candidate. But I do weigh the pros and cons of each individual – and there is NOTHING I agree with Mitt Romney on. I believe most people, no matter what color their skin, votes based on who they think is best to lead the country – not based on one social issue. We have more pressing problems in America than SSM.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rush

      Go F Yourself.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • My Bible

      Don't forget to stone your rebellious children to death, while you are at it. The Bible says so!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • alfon

      That's right!! Dignity comes first. However, it seems that no matter what Obama says-The black community goes along with him–I don't want him ,"That Bad"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • alfon

      Christine–Quite lying!!!!!!!!! _Please tell it like it is and defend your dignity –"If you have any."

      May 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Victor

    James Buchanan... (15th Prez. of the US) He really was gay. Never Married and lived with Alabama Senator William Rufus King in a relationship of many years.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. marctheduck

    Ooopsie! Overshot on his evolution a little bit...

    May 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. charitychest

    Who the hell cares – OMG, gay gay gay gay – WHO CARES and if you do, you are obviously, uneducated with a belief system that is Next to Westbora Baptist Church standards.....why does any care about someone else's life period, unless it directly effects them. Don't use God, God will take care of any issue in the end period – don't try to be God and judge, just live your own damn life, get a clue, shut the hell up and get on to the ECONOMY AND FIX IT. Grow up you small minded Americans with nothing else better to do PERIOD!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • wook

      I wish Obama would get on the economy and fix it, but gaynesss is more important to him.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      @Wook – funny how it was the Repubs/Tea Partiers that ran on jobs, jobs, jobs in 2010 but you don't seem to be upset with them? You're showing your bias!

      May 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Truthhurts

    Children have the civil right to know their biological parents. Kids aren't pets or livestock.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcus

      And what does that have to do with this issue?

      May 14, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WDinDallas

    Self-destruction....I love it. The left actually think all of this is good...they went over the hill.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rags to Riches

    These magazines are corporate right wing propaganda rags attempting to rally the hate voters against President Obama. Don't be fooled!

    May 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosalee

      You have got to be kidding. They have practically kissed Obama's behind for the last 4 years. I think they think this is a positive thing and are promoting it for all it is worth.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. john

    This whole issue is so ironic because as the black community is saying how they believe this and they believe that, and it should be left up to the states about marriage, they quickly forget how not even 70 years ago or so. People were saying the same EXACT thing about white and black marriage"I don't believe a black person and a white person can be married" and it should be left to the state ext, the difference is that You don't have the right to impose your beliefs about jack upon others. Im sure there are many who will still say "I think slavery should be legal, and it should be left up to the states" Thats fine if you think that way and many still do, but it does not give you or the state any right to impose that upon others even if there was majority support.

    May 14, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
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