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. Ronaldo

    Call it what you want gay/straight we all know marige is similar to hell

    May 15, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  2. Willow

    Let the record show that President Obama led this country forward with his ideas and policies installing equal rights for everyone regardless of race or religion. This country decided early on the bible would not dictate our government. Throughout history people have tried to push back against that and demand our government govern us according to a book written thousands of years ago by men, not god. I can glimpse a brighter future coming...when the last group of old, fearful and blatantly ignorant americans die out and this country moves forward along with the rest of the world.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • OKC

      Religion has nothing to do with my objects to gay marriage......that is a fantasy of gay people.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Please please please please: if you live in this country now LEAVE. You are not part of the problem, you are the living embodiment of it.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  3. Vidyashanti

    Deliberate and provocative garbage journalism.
    The cover page implies that the president is Gay.
    This is wrong and the magazine should apologize for misinforming people.

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

      How can you be sure???? This would make perfect sence.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. aurelius

    It's only a matter of time before FOX announces that President Obama is eating a Christian baby for breakfast every day. It took Germany, probably one of the most civilized and educated nation on earth in the 18th-20th centuries, about 15 years to bring Adolf Hitler to power. With media like FOX to stir up the natural prejudices, bigotry and racist in the American people, it would take less than a few years. Electing Romney or any other GOP candidate to the presidency this coming November would be the first step in that direction.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  5. oscar

    whatever... i dont like gay people, and they wil have to face people like me always, this war will last for ever

    May 15, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. Libdumb

    I have met the true enemy and it is people of this administration. It is time to resurrect the crusades and apply the second  amendment to those that offend Christians.  Never would I defend the principles of these Nazi's!

    May 15, 2012 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
  7. OregonTom

    Michelle will be sad when she finds out ! (just joking) 🙂

    May 15, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. eville11

    only Michelle really knows... and maybe a male lobbyist or two.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  9. bon basije

    The Americans who voted for this guy in 2008 must be gnashing their teeth on how their candidate turned out as president. Far from being a reformer after the disastrous Bush presidency. Obama is turning out to be the worst electoral mistake the American voter has so far made.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • A Champion of Rights

      Absolutely not! Quite to the contrary, President Obama is being hailed as a Champion for the Human Rights of ALL Americans not just those in the majority! Just go to glaad.org/ It's equivalent to President Johnson and the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. History does repeat itself. Only this time it is for other Americans who also work hard in this country, who also pay their taxes, who also go to church, who also raise families, have their own or adopt children, and who also want the right to officially be recognized for the love they have for one another. To not give these fine Americans that right is the worst kind of discrimination and prejudice to be seen since the 1800's, 1900's to the late Fifties for Blacks. Even Coretta S. King acknowledged that the fight for Gay equality is like the fight for Black civil rights and she was a learned woman with a very famous husband. So, there cannot be any excuse made any more to deny other Americans their rights just because they are in the minority. As long as they work, pay taxes, don't interfere with your own families, you don't try to interfere with theirs! However, this can just exemplify the need for Federal legislation to Protect the rights of Gays and Lesbians who are so terribly being discriminated against by the straight majority as Blacks were by the White majority in yesteryear. In the end, Gays will have their full rights too and no one will be the wiser because people will slowly start to see that no one was hurt in the process as they are already starting to see with DADT being repealed to allow Gays and Lesbians to openly serve in the military. No one has been hurt by that, all clamor has died down, and life has gone on with some of the best and most brilliant Gay and Lesbian minds the service has ever seen! May Prejudice and Discrimination Desist!

      May 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ireuel

    Frank Marshall Davis? Who is this? and is he "pops"

    May 15, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • will

      Blacks will not go to hell because they are blacks but gays will due to the fact the Creator never made people gay; it's their choice and that is one of the reasons why the gay activists are fighting to stop anyone who tries to counsel their colleagues to leave that deadly life style. Being blacks is by birth but being gays is a choice. Stop comparing us with gays! Stop insulting us!

      May 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. splasher6

    Liberal Media Matters in overdrive

    May 15, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Lovely415

      What matters is LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL! All Americans should be in favor of anti-discrimination! Including you my friend.... Please be intelligent enough to realize the distinction between legal rights and religious freedom. They can co-exisit! Teach others how NOT TO DISCRIMINATE!

      May 15, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lee

    Black folks the President doesn't care whether or not you disagree with him, he just wants your VOTE! Don't vote for him just because he's black, vote the ISSUES! Wake up people and smell the coffee before it's too late AMERICA! He's always been pro choice and pro gay this is nothing new. He just stopped beating around the bush and "came out the closet". I'm praying for him because I'm afraid with the wickedness of this country the God of the Bible will truly bring His judgement.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lovely415

      I stongly encourage you to distinguish between legal rights and religious freedom. Legally , we are all guaranteed equal protection under the law. Your God and man made bible may be full of bigotry. However, my GOD is an all inclusive God. He wants us to live happy and thrive. I take it so does our president. We are Americans. We do not discriminate within the law.

      May 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. No, Not Really, No

    Equal rights for all citizens...
    Whether or not one agrees with President Obama's position on marriage rights, one might actually give him credit for standing up for Americans.

    May 15, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ol' JW

      I would be more impressed if he stood up for the 50% of Americans who support the decriminalization of marijuana!

      May 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. No, Not Really, No

    @Mike:

    Actually, most children are significantly more open-minded than you seem to be. It's not hard to tell a child that people that kiss or hold hands are expressing love or affection (or both). It is only through your narrow red lens that it seems "abnormal."

    May 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. No, Not Really, No

    I have never met a gay person who "decided" to be gay. Stop repeating lies about the "gay choice."

    May 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • JayNYC

      Exactly – do you think 11 year old boys who are getting smacked by their pastors are choosing to act with perceived feminininty? (Not that a feminine boy is necessarily gay, but you get the idea).

      May 15, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ol' JW

      Most "gay" people in this day and age are making that choice because it is seen as "cool" or "hip" to be gay!

      May 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
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